By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
“Dead Hearts”, a sixteen minute short from director Ramzees Carvalho (2014’s “Night of the Damned”), opens with four young adults trapped in a cellar. Radio broadcasts are announcing that the reanimated are coming back to life. When a chilling chain of events transpire it is up to Dan (Carvalho himself in an impressive, spectacularly wrought performance) to take the reins of heroism. With this action he must face the ravenous hoards of the undead.
It’s a classic set-up that brings to mind visions of George A. Romero’s timeless 1968 gem, Night of the Living Dead. To further the sense of unabashed reminiscence this wonderful short (the second by Carvalho) induces is crisp, vivid and rich cinematography from Nelson Reis.
The special makeup effects by Manny Savini only heightens the appeal. The zombies, and their veneer, are stalwart, gritty and credible at every turn.
Such attributes resonate amid the numerous well-done decapitations and various other gory bits. This is because there is a palpable sense of camaraderie between all the leads.
This is most noticeable between Dan and Liz (in a performance by Alyssa Paige Moreno that is every bit as strong and understated as the role demands). Their relationship is the propelling force of most of the narrative. The work is all the more commanding because of the sheer strength of their portrayals.
Ramzees Carvalho and Moreno prove they are more than apt to take on what the taunt, intelligent script that has a Stephen King-like eye for characterizations, also by Carvalho, demands.
Cameron Perrault, as Luke, and Luke Eleuterio, as Alex, fare just as spectacularly. They further add to the sense of kinship and authenticity pulsating through every frame.
This isn’t the only factor which contributes to this triumphant success. The work constructed in all other technical arenas are phenomenal. They come together to formulate something truly special.
The smooth film editing by Ramzees and Luis Carvalho are further evidence of these high-quality characteristics solidifying to evoke brilliance.
In its quick-moving runtime it creates an atmospheric mood. In an exhibition of the artistry on display this is done before the story even begins to unfold.
It carries this impression out effortlessly. All the while it is constantly building upon this solid foundation. We are issued mounting trepidation throughout.
In turn, “Dead Hearts” is a persistent wall of ever-increasing suspense. It grips us with increasing intrigue until well after its elegiac, and cleverly wrought, finale.
We remain mesmerized, awe-struck by how well conceived the sum of this exertion remains. This is especially remarkable given its compact length.
The composition creates an illusion, brought forth by its genuine dialogue, performances, zombie make-up and effects, that we are with our leads.This is a credit to the incredible talent all around.
“Dead Hearts” has an obvious affection for the sub-genre it is rooted in. It showcases a knowledge of undead works of yore. Yet, there is also an abundance of originality here.
Carvalho’s brief film is distinctly its own entity. It is always fresh, vigorous and smart. Moreover, it is endlessly engaging, gripping and terrifying in ample doses.
“Dead Hearts” is riveting. It establishes Carvalho as a great new talent. Simultaneously it breathes fresh life and perspective into the much documented account of cannibalistic ghouls.
This is a must-see. It is a testament to how much can be done on a small budget. Furthermore, it proves the potency inherent when the components of affection and respect, as well as a phenomenal natural aptitude, for the craft and the composition being operated on unify among the respective contributions of all involved.