Rotting skin, graceless movements, lack of vocal control, insatiable appetites — zombies and adolescents have so much in common, it’s a wonder that it took this long for a film to combine the two. In Make-Out with Violence, directors/writers Deagol Brothers have made a near-decent drama about the precipice of hormones and uncertainty that is high school graduation, and added a more-than-decent zombie to the mix. While it’s not quite peanut butter and jelly, the result is slightly better than the sum of its dismembered parts.
Make-Out with Violence probably owes more to weighty, nostalgic coming-of-age dramas than the zombie apocalypse. The Virgin Suicides, not The Evil Dead. But as the former film’s title — and content — tells us, there’s often a little death in growing up. Make-Out with Violence just makes it literal.
The obviously-named Wendy Hearst (Shellie Marie Shartzer) plays the high school object of desire, presumably, long before the film’s action begins, crushed on and lusted after from afar by boys taking too long in the bathroom. But after twin brothers Patrick (Eric Lehning) and Carol Darling (Cody DeVos) discover her barely reanimated corpse in a field after she’s gone missing, she’s seriously transformed into an object of unrequited love.
The brothers — one much more than the other — secretly “care” for her, bathing, feeding, and clipping nails. Of course, plot complications and disaster do arise. Wendy’s (de facto ex-) boyfriend enters the picture. Some family pets get devoured. But at its core, this is a film about caring in the form of obsessive, unrequited yearning, and how quickly it can veer into nihilism and self-destruction. Wendy’s poor admirer isn’t even into necrophilia (although don’t be so sure), and it’s really too bad: at least then he might get some pleasure out of their sorry excuse for a relationship. Watching a smitten high schooler dress up and make up a semi-rotting, mostly brain-dead Wendy for a birthday party, it’s easy to see why caring, as they say, is creepy.
It’s a nice metaphor for the uselessness and destructiveness of our young emotions. But the thing is, nobody in this movie actually looks young. I realize that it’s common for actors to play parts much younger than their years, but it’s too glaring here. It’s been a while since I was one, but I don’t remember high schoolers having beer bellies and thinning hair. The acting itself isn’t much more believable.
Still, if you can suspend your disbelief, you’ll be rewarded by one of the more intriguing portrayals of a zombie to grace the screen. Relying simply on makeup and the actress’s ability to lurch and flop like a rotting marionette (frustratingly, the film’s structured like her movements, alternatingly languid and jarring), Wendy is haunting, original, and believable. She’s unable to hold herself up even to sit in a chair, as if every muscle in her body has decomposed, yet some propulsive force still eerily animates what’s left of her. Hopefully, your fascination with this zombie will be for altogether different reasons than those of her twin high school admirers.