Without looking at IMDB, I assumed that Death and Cremation was a first film. It has the feeling of a boy wearing his father’s jacket. The costumes don’t quite look right, locations look borrowed, and shots seem stolen. This lack of polish often has charm. Yet, there’s a point where Death and Cremation goes from charming indie into student film with a large budget. While technically capable, this movie is underdeveloped, poorly written, and doesn’t make a lot of sense.
This is the tale of two outcasts: Stan (Brad Dourif) and Jarod (Jeremy Sumpter). One is a disfigured, over-the-hill operator of a crematorium who happens to be a serial killer. The other is a high school kid that smokes, paints his nails, and could be called goth, emo, or whatever they’re calling social misfit’s these days. When their paths cross, their morbid relationship unfolds. It’s at the moment their relationship begins that this movie starts to fall apart.
There’s little suspense about this, but we immediately know that these two will have to become friends even though they’re not realistically compatible. Yes, they’re both social outcasts. The problem is that one lives in a trailer, gets beat up at school, and has a lonely single mother who yells at him for smoking pot — the other experienced horrific, disfiguring, childhood torture.
Just because you have two gay friends, doesn’t mean they should date each other.
Just because two people feel lonely, doesn’t mean they want to be lonely together.
There isn’t logic behind their relationship, and it doesn’t stop there. Every character, with the possible exception of Stan, comes across as two-dimensional sketch. Bad people are just bad, sometimes for no apparent (or at least unconvincing) reasons. The character’s shallow natures make many scenes seem clichéd. The characters are as much victims of deus ex machina, as they are victims of Stan’s over the top bludgeoning kills.
In the end this film felt like it was being propelled by a series of small but awkwardly placed coincidences. As silly as it may sound, even Stan’s kills seemed orchestrated for the sake of the director’s entertainment rather than calculated serial killer proficiency. It seems like co-writer/director Justin Steele (on his first feature), wanted to explore an interesting idea, and didn’t care if it made sense.
When it comes to technique the camerawork is good. The shots often had a lush, dreamy quality that made me pay attention even when the dialogue suffered. On top of that, the acting is good too. Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Deadwood) does a great job bringing some true dimension to Stan. All the “teen” actors are fine, but they only rise to the level of the material. On the other hand, I will point out that TGIF fans will notice ‘90s child star Staci Keanan as the wife of Daniel Baldwin – thier rolls are small, but it’s nice to see them both working.
Unfortunately, even with “Nicole Bradford” Death and Cremation simply never becomes more than a well-shot interesting idea.