Dead Weight opens with an exchange between the mundane Charlie and his devoted girlfriend, Samantha. The city is under lockdown, quarantined off from the rest of the world while biological attacks strike cities across the entire United States of America. Samantha (Mary Lindberg) finds a desperate way out of the city via canoe, and Charlie (Joe Belknap) vows to meet with her again, in the small town where they first met.
Charlie partners up with a group of survivors, searching for food, weapons, and any means of survival. Charlie has a lot of emotional baggage, proven in his exchanges with his colleagues. He is socially disconnected, making arguments focused purely on his needs and how he is affected by the challenges they face.
Viewers are then treated to a wonderful flashback that shows the dynamic between the self-absorbed Charlie and the career-obsessed Samantha. It becomes evident that Charlie has always, to some degree, weighed the events that impacted him above all others. Flashing back to the present, Charlie’s group finds some resources, along with some fellow travelers. What follows is an incredibly tense scene that tests the boundaries of post-apocalypse moral code.
Winter hits soon, challenging every member of the group to trust one another, believe in the leadership of Thomas (Aaron Christensen), and to ration their rest and their food.
Another flashback follows. At this point, it becomes obvious that the directors are putting viewers through an experience similar to that of the survivors. They are exposed to bleak, dangerous scenes from the end of the world, and granted small bits of solace in the form of memories. The juxtaposition works to deliver an effective viewing experience.
The film’s final act pits Charlie against everyone, and to an extent, against himself. Will anyone stand by his side? Will he find Samantha? Or has the entire trek been a misguided, uninformed descent to an inevitable end?
(It’s simply impossible to explain the film’s finale’ without spoiling everything. You’ll have to watch it and experience it for yourself. Please do.)
Dead Weight is like a mashup of the film, The Crazies, and Blake Crouch’s novel, “Run”, with plenty of “The Last Man on Earth” and “The Road” thrown in. The Wisconsin-based team at Head Trauma Productions sets the film in territory they know and know well. Lindberg is the easy standout, giving her character plenty of pep and displaying her devotion to Charlie. Belknap’s Charlie is clearly flawed, but trying desperately, despite shortcomings he can’t, or chooses not to see.
I believed in Charlie and Samantha from their first exchange. They seemed real, dedicated, and desperate enough to slap together a real plan for the end of the world, without understanding the scale of their circumstances. The supporting cast is steady, if not seasoned. Aaron Christensen is good as the group’s alpha male. Michelle Courvais is good as the group’s emotional anchor, Meredith. (She gets one scene to really show off.) For a film with almost nothing but newcomers, credit goes to directors Adam Bartlett and John Pata for convincing amateurs of their vision. The sets are amazing, and the cinematography helps to convey the bleak and desperate existence of the travelers. Characters are introduced with just what’s on the surface, keeping mystery and danger just a quick line of dialog or plot twist away.
Dead Weight is an entertaining psychological thriller, set in the most remote locations, and based on the premise that trust, not beauty, is only skin deep. Survivors of the apocalypse can only hope that what they see is what they get. When it’s not, the worst aspects of mankind make for a bleak story, and a very good movie.