Written by: Josh Hancock
Director: Jeff Ferrell
Cast: Brian Sutherland, Katie Michels, Meagan Naser, Tony Arrington, Carollani Sandberg, Bethany Jacobs, Aurelio Voltaire
Writer and director Jeff Ferrell’s smoldering Dead West takes the serial-killer film into new territory with a well-written script and knock-out performances from Brian Sutherland, Katie Michels, Meagan Naser, and an additional cast of dedicated actors. The movie, which tells the violent tale of a charismatic killer searching for the woman of his dreams, consistently impresses with scenes that surprise and shock at nearly every turn.
Sutherland, in the role of a lone drifter with a hardcore fondness for blonde women and knives, appears in almost every scene in Dead West, carrying the movie with his subdued but slick performance. Under a variety of fake names, the drifter (in the script he’s known as “The Ladykiller”) wanders from roadside town to roadside town, making pit-stops at crumbling gas stations, lonely motels, and cheap diners. The drifter has no trouble meeting and picking up women, all of whom quickly fall for his scruffy charm and reassuring demeanor. Early on, the drifter meets Candy (Michels), a hardworking waitress with a high-wattage smile and dreamy eyes. What seems like love at first sight soon becomes a night of terror and bloodshed as the drifter fails to contain his violent urges. Audiences soon learn that this vengeful man, dressed casually in a leather jacket and blue jeans, can never be truly satisfied by the love of a good woman, no matter how hard he tries.
As the movie continues, the drifter meets and beds several women, including a pretty blonde named Lila (Bethany Jacobs), whom he discovers at a drive-in double-feature of Maniac and Vigilante. Director Farrell and cinematographer Ty Migota absolutely nail this sequence. As gory violence erupts on the huge movie screen above, the drifter confronts Lila in the backseat of his muscle car in a scene unrelenting in its suspense and terror. While Sutherland portrays anger and menace perfectly, the performances of the women in the picture are so strong that audiences actually feel genuine sorrow for their plight. In many horror films, female victims are merely that–faceless, nameless vessels upon which the male killer can act out his most perverse desires. In Dead West, however, the dialogue and the portrayals of the women in the story are both exceptional. Ferrell’s script devotes considerable time to the characters, giving them scope and dimension. The characters are intelligent, hardworking, downtrodden, and sorrowful, and each performer strikes a commanding presence onscreen. In addition to the actors already mentioned, Carollani Sandberg gives a heartbreaking performance as one of the drifter’s later victims, a down-on-her-luck dancer named Charlene.
Throughout the picture, the drifter is pursued by Tony (Jeffrey Arrington), the brother of one of the killer’s first victims. Armed with keen tracking abilities and a gun, Tony is determined to have justice for his sister’s tragic death. Along his journey the drifter meets Roxy (Naser), who may very well be his last hope for redemption and a life of true love rather than gruesome violence and murder. Dead West has only one misstep that unfortunately occurs at one of the climaxes of the film. Feeling genuine emotions toward Roxy, the drifter decides to exact revenge on her former pimp, Sug White (Aurelio Voltaire), who is the only caricature in the movie. Voltaire gives it his all in a comedic performance reminiscent of Gary Oldman’s Drexl Spivey from True Romance (1993), but the dialogue is unimaginative and stereotyped, the action generic and predictable. At the moment when Dead West should truly shine it falters, but both Sutherland and Naser return the movie to its former glory in the final scenes. The conclusion is grim and unforgiving, and makes for an appropriate coda for the drifter’s brutal way of life.
With a powerful score by Semih Tareen, Jeff Ferrell’s Dead West is a smart, well-made, and intelligent thriller. The violent sequences are not for the squeamish, and the overall tone is often dark and bleak as audiences trace the journey of a madman–but those up for this trip into homicidal darkness will surely be rewarded.
Dead West is set to be released on DVD by RLJ Entertainment on February 7th, 2017. You can watch the trailer here.