Last September I was thrilled to sit on the film jury for Austin's awesome Fantastic Fest. My jury cohorts were Swedish movie producer Christian Hallman and Texan actor Wiley Wiggins. I mention these things not to get pointlessly nostalgic, but to let you know what we decided was the Best Picture of the festival: It was Simon Rumley's bizarre, chilling and strangely hypnotic The Living and the Dead -- which isn't a "horror movie" in the most traditional sense, but is a thoroughly disturbing experience all the same. And by "disturbing," I mean: Really twisted, unique and fascinating to puzzle through.
What's most engaging about the decidedly off-kilter The Living and the Dead is the way in which writer/director Rumley mixes the realistically tragic with the darkly absurd. This is a horror movie about mental illness, drug abuse, loss of parents, fear of abandonment, and the ways in which cancer can erode a whole lot more than just one person's body. The film takes place in a fascinatingly dank and isolated mansion, one that's populated by only three people: Defeated patriarch Donald Brocklebank, his mentally-challenged son James, and his cancer-afflicted wife Nancy. Strapped for cash and with the family estate on its last legs, Donald must travel away from his crumbling estate in an effort to raise some much-needed health-care money. The plan is for Nurse Mary to check in and tend to Nancy's needs, but the over-medicated James has, ahem, other plans. Suffice to say that James sees himself as a completely reliable member of the household, when the truth is actually that ... he's not. Like, at all.