Toronto After Dark 2017: ‘Dead Shack’ and ‘Rabbit’

Dead Shack (DIR. Peter Ricq)

Audiences that like their zombies with a healthy side of laughs shouldn’t miss Dead Shack, director Peter Ricq’s dark comedy about three teenagers whose week-long vacation at a cabin in the woods takes a nightmarish turn when they learn that their neighbour in the cabin next-door is feeding unsuspecting young locals to her undead family.

Though the silliness is sometimes a bit too over-the-top and the dialogue has a few moments that feel clunky and forced, Dead Shack more than makes up for its faults with its dorky charm and talented cast.

The three young protagonists (played by Matthew Nelson-Mahood, Gabriel LaBelle, and Lizzie Boys) are immediately likable and easy to connect with.  The dialogue between the kids is quick, smart, and charming while managing to avoid the usual pitfall of presenting the characters as hollow stereotypes of how a thirty-something film writer thinks that teenagers behave.

Donovan Stinson is exceptional as the kids’ hard-partying but well-meaning dad, Roger, who is too busy drinking and playing strip-poker with his girlfriend (Valerie Tian) to be much use against the zombie threat.  The real scene stealer, however, is Lauren Holly (Dumb and Dumber, After The Ball) as the villainous neighbour.  Holly clearly seems to have fun with the character, bringing a campy sort of drama to the role that is fun to watch even when she has some of the most obvious and least-inspired lines in the film.

Dead Shack uses the battle against undead foes as a metaphor for growing up, developing self-confidence, and learning how to appreciate and defend the people in your life that matter to you.  Luckily, the themes of family and coming-of-age narrative aren’t too overt or forceful.  They’re there if you look for them, but never demand to be noticed – which is for the best.

– Shannon Page 


Rabbit (DIR. Luke Shanahan)

Written and directed by Luke Shanahan, Rabbit is a tense, psychological horror/thriller that follows a Maude, played to perfection by Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby), a young Australian woman studying medicine in Germany who begins to have mysterious dreams about her twin sister, Cleo (also played by Clemens), who went missing a year before.  After what appears to be a nervous collapse, Maude returns home to Australia determined to trace her strange visions and find her sister.

Rabbit is certainly not a perfect film, but it is delightfully disorienting.  From the unfamiliar and bizarre setting in rural Australia to the rapid shifts between dream and reality, it is easy to get lost along the way.  However, Clemens delivers a strong performance in the lead role and the simultaneous vulnerability and determination that she brings to Maude offers the audience a thread of sense and humanity to cling to through a plot that is often confused and difficult to follow.

Strange and surreal, Rabbit is one of those horror films that doesn’t contain much in the way of overt violence.  Instead, like most psychological horror films, it relies on tension and a mounting sense of uneasiness.  Some of the most disturbing moments of the film involve images that are more ominous than terrifying: an old rotting tree, dark figures in rustic animal masks.  These images are strange on their own, but are made even more unsettling by being beautifully shot.

For as creepy as the cinematography is, the most haunting aspect of Rabbit is its exceptional use of sound and music.  I have a deep love of psychological horror and have always maintained that a good soundtrack is necessary for creating the feeling of dread upon which the sub-genre depends.  Michael Darren’s score is nothing short of perfection;  incorporating elements of folk, opera, classical and ambient noise.  At times heavy and powerful, and at others downright menacing, sound is responsible for most of the truly scary moments in the film.

– Shannon Page 


For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.

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Toronto After Dark: @TADFilmFest
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