Dead Residence is a new “found footage” horror film from Tampa-based indie-filmmaker Sean Donohue. Donohue runs the Tampa Bay Screams convention, and is also the director of films such as Die Die Delta Pi and the Death-Scort Service trilogy of films. While I do not pretend to be overly familiar with Donohue’s body of work, the Death-Scort Service films are a series of insanely low-budgeted slasher/splatter flicks, generally dealing with a madman (or madmen) dispatching hookers in gruesome and brutally violent ways. While some champion the over-the-top violence and depravity that the series offers up, more than a few others have criticized the overall lack of plot or story, as well as the amateurish acting. Dead Residence is Donohue’s latest departure from that series, and presents a noticeable effort to step away from the confines and possible pigeon-holing of his previous films’ penchant for ultra-violence and sleaze.
A young couple, Patrick (Arius West) and Debbie (Kylie Remlinger), begin a search for their first home. For whatever reason, they decide to video document the entire process, from the initial search to the purchase. They soon find a suitable home, a single-floor fixer upper, and arrange a walk-through with the realtor. Upon their first look at the home, they notice that the previous occupants have left behind quite a few of their belongings, such as lawn mowers and some interior furnishings. The realtor informs them that the previous tenants left without giving any form of notice, seemingly abandoning the home. The realtor also informs them that the home is equipped with security cameras, which can be monitored even while they are out elsewhere.
The couple make an offer on the home, which is accepted, and they soon begin the move, prepared for all the minor repairs that await them. On their first day, a pizza delivery guy arrives at the door. However, neither Patrick or Debbie placed an order. The delivery guy is pretty persistent about getting rid of the pizza, but the couple still decline. This may be the most eventful moment in the first 30 minutes of the film. While some may appreciate time spent on character development, we truly don’t learn much about either Patrick or Debbie, so really it’s just a very slow start to a rather short film.
As they sleep through the first evening in their new house, the surveillance cameras pick up the darkened shape of someone standing in their bedroom, just mere feet from where they lay. The intruder finally leaves the room and is seen ascending a ladder located in the garage. It would appear that this person is hiding up in the crawl space above the ceiling. As this is Florida, many of our homes do not have true attics. That said, I’m not believing for one second that any potential homeowner in this state with even an ounce of sense would buy a home without first inspecting the roof and insulation. Between the summer heat and hurricane season, the condition of the roof should be one of the first things that you look into!
The following morning finds the couple working on the repairs and renovations of their new home, namely painting walls and generally cleaning up around the place. Why they felt the need to film every little mundane detail and chore may ultimately be the film’s biggest mystery, but this generally tends to be an issue with many “found footage” horror films, and is a big reason why so many of them just don’t “work” for me. While cleaning up the kitchen, Debbie finds a small pistol in one of the drawers. She shows it to Patrick, who discovers that it is actually just a really fancy looking flash drive. However, it is seemingly forgotten about as we are soon greeted by a thrilling scene featuring the couple eating lunch. (In this case, a pizza from Hungry Howies! Hell, I’d break into their house for that Cajun crust!)
There are a few scenes of the couple just relaxing that, while believable, do help slow down the already lackadaisical pacing. Patrick spends a great deal of time determined to capture an image of Debbie naked on video, but don’t get your hopes up because you’ll not see it happen. There are some flashes of nudity late in the film, which may be seen as a huge change of pace from the vast amounts of female nudity on display in Donohue’s Death-Scort Service films. At one particular point, Patrick attempts to film Debbie while she is in the shower, but in doing so he completely overlooks a bright smear of blood on the edge of the bathroom door. This may have been a continuity error or something that was overlooked during production, but it surely doesn’t seem to be an “element of foreboding”. If so, it is too quickly dismissed to have been an effective element.
The intruder once again appears in their bedroom as they sleep. Thanks to the low-resolution of the security cameras, just what this person is doing is fairly undefinable. The intruder steals some food from the fridge before returning to their hiding spot in the crawlspace, but leaves a spilled bag of potato chips on the counter for the couple to find in the morning. While mentioned, neither Debbie nor Patrick seem very worried about this discovery.
This is followed by even more fascinating footage of chores, such as cleaning windows and carpets. However, the two are soon interrupted by a knock at the front door. The visitors introduce themselves as the next-door neighbors, offering the couple some freshly baked cookies as a house-warming gift. The neighbors also mention the odd fact that the previous tenants left without much notice. This scene also serves as the first and only time throughout the film that there is any mention to Patrick’s being a black man. As this fact plays no importance to the plot whatsoever, I do feel that the film may have been better served by not making any attention to it at all. Look for a cameo from Donohue as one of the neighbors.
The intruder returns on the third night, this time to ominously steal a hammer. Eventually, the couple decide to inspect the flash drive, where they discover photographic evidence of just what has truly happened to the previous occupants. However, Debbie quickly realizes that the footage was shot in their own garage! Patrick doesn’t seem to buy this, even though he can literally turn his head and see the garage from the same angle that the camera did.
An inspection of the crawlspace reveals what the viewer has known all along. It’s at this point that the film quickly escalates to its conclusion. (To be fair, there are only a few minutes left in the film anyway.) As anyone who has watched more than a few “found footage” films can attest to, they all generally end in the same fashion; with something sinister and/or dire happening to the characters, whether that be death, disappearance, or something similar. So, while I may not be “spoiling” the conclusion of the film in this review, the end result should be expected before you even start the film. The intruder’s identity is also revealed before the film’s end, which may or may not be a mistake, especially considering the film’s closing “disclaimer”.
Truth be told, I was probably one of the worst possible options when it came to reviewing a film such as this. I am not a fan of the “found footage” format. In fact, I’ve probably only enjoyed a handful of “found footage” films over the last decade or so. Probably less than that. All that said, I didn’t hate Dead Residence nearly as much as the majority of the found footage films I’ve watched. In fact, despite the numerous negatives that I have pointed out in this review, I didn’t hate it at all. Even so, I can’t sit here and truly praise the film either.
The biggest compliment that I can give Dead Residence is that the performances of the two leads were quite believable. In fact, I even kinda like these two… a little. However, I surely didn’t like them enough to want to watch every boring, mundane moment in their daily life. Yes, this approach keeps the film grounded in reality, but isn’t escaping reality part of why I watch movies to begin with?
In many regards, Dead Residence is a much more cohesive tale than a vast majority of the “found footage” features that I’ve suffered through. However, even at just over an hour long, it’s more than a little boring as well.
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