By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Art of the Dead (2019), from writer-director Rolfe Kanefsky, is a surreal, wildly entertaining and wickedly inventive work of cinematic horror. It ranks among the best genre pictures of the year. As was the case in earlier Kanefsky productions, such as The Black Room (2017), there are touches of movie masters Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci (such as one gloriously gooey occasion near the midway mark where an image of a slug oozes slime) and Mario Bava. These are unmistakably located throughout the ninety-seven minute project. There is also a first act death scene involving overdrinking that lovingly calls to mind a moment one might see in a feature from Troma Entertainment. Such examples showcase that Kanefsky is clearly inspired. His ability to evoke memories obtained from so many sources is commendable. It increases the varied and effortlessly enjoyable nature of the proceedings.
What is just as gripping is Kanefsky’s theme of the art world. In particular, the artist being underappreciated by his or her audience. This is displayed effectively in the eye-opening and attention-garnering six-minute opening segment. There is also a concentration on the hindrance of critics through the eye of said artist. Such an emphasis adds layers of insight to the proceedings. These gently sewn bits help make the work evermore resonate.
The efficiently paced effort is further propelled to excellence by its engaging plot. It involves a family, the Wilsons, who, unbeknownst to its tragic past, are slowly taken over by the Sinsation Collection. These are an assembly of beautifully rendered paintings that revolve around the seven deadly sins. In so doing, the clan begin to enact the transgressions depicted in the canvases. This is as the handspun portraits individually speak to the members of the kin and use them as pawns in their wicked bidding.
From a narrative perspective, Kanefsky’s latest also benefits from a solid and intense third act. It weaves its various plot threads into a spectacularly sinister and satisfying climax. The concluding sequence is intriguing and ominous. It offers the perfect punctuation point for the material. The sections of backstory found in the first sixty minutes mechanize just as well. It serves as engaging exposition. The handling of this attribute adds to the wonderfully bizarre and unpredictable atmosphere of the undertaking.
Kanefsky’s script, from a story by Michael and Sonny Mahal, has the right amount of character focus, development and content. The dialogue is believable and enjoyable. Furthermore, it is brought richly to life by a game cast. Every actor and actress involved with the development delivers with a fantastic performance. Jessica Morris as Gina Wilson, Lukas Hasssel as Dylan Wilson, Richard Grieco as Douglas Winter, Tania Fox as Tiffany Roberts and Tara Reid as Tess Barryman are especially good.
The exercise is just as stalwart from a technical standpoint. The cinematography from Michael Su is colorful and striking. It increases the imaginative and hypnotic essence of the exercise. This can also be said of the smartly utilized visual effects. They were supervised by Clint Carney. Christopher Farrell’s music is moody and masterful. The costume design by Monique Marie Long, editing by Jay Woelfel and the collective contribution from the makeup department is also astounding. These characteristics are all wonder-inducing highlights of this gloriously grim gem.
In turn, Kanefsky has crafted a brilliant genre outing. The venture is ambitious and thoughtful. It can also be quite graphic at times. The subtle moments of terror are instrumented just as phenomenally as the more daring, aggressive instances of fear. Much as he had done prior, Kanefsky draws from a large catalogue of genre-related elements. This will assuredly be a source of endless appeal and admiration to fellow fans of fright flicks of all varieties. What is just as exemplary is how well he wields them into a memorable composition. It is one that is wholly his own. Regardless of the familiarity of some of the items in Kanefky’s arsenal, there is never a sense of anything in the endeavor being overdone. Best of all, there is also not a dull second in sight. For these reasons, Art of the Dead is a must-see this Halloween season. It is guaranteed to satisfy.