Monday , 8 August 2022

Kids go killer in creepy Let’s Play Dead Girl – review

“Ladies and creepy ghouls, are you ready for a night of killer kids?”

It ain’t easy being a kid. Pressures at school, at home, and perhaps, most of all, among friends, can make growing up a scary endeavor. Searching for a sense of purpose, a belonging to something, anything, can lead one in a positive direction, allowing that person to find his or herself and propel them forward in the world. On the other hand, that quest for acceptance, when coupled with mental illness and an inability to distinguish from right and wrong, or between reality and fantasy, can send one down a dark path leading to violence and death. Such is the premise to the horror short film that has been racking up nominations and wins at film festivals across the U.S. and beyond, the creepy and unsettling, Let’s Play Dead Girl.

From writer/director Christian A. Morán, Let’s Play Dead Girl tells the tale of two 12-year old girls, Josephine and Juda, who create a website chronicling the legend of a mysterious and sinister looking figure known as Alto. Producing artwork and writing stories, they develop a considerable and increasing number of followers, along with a growing, all-consuming obsession. As the lines between what’s real and unreal begin to blur, the girls believe they can bring their creation to life by taking the life of one of their friends, a sweet girl named Consuelo. It all leads up to a nightmarish and shocking conclusion.

“…the most terrifying, horrifying, most spine-tingling movie yet!”

If the story of Let’s Play Dead Girl rings a bell, it’s because it’s based on a disturbingly real-life event that took place in Wisconsin in 2014, where two young girls did indeed lure a friend into a situation where they attempted to kill her in hopes of uniting with, in this case, the entity known as the Slender Man. This Slender Man itself was created in 2009 by Eric Knudsen for the website, Something Awful. It became an internet sensation, spawning a plethora of ‘creepypasta’ – online fiction, fanart and other creative output featuring a frightening-looking presence that was inspired in part by Stephen King’s The Mist, Phantasm’s The Tall Man, and videogames, Silent Evil and Resident Evil, along with other sources from page to screen. Earlier this year, HBO released a documentary, Beware the Slenderman, which examined the true-life case, utilizing archival footage, family interviews and police interrogations of the girls. With Let’s Play Dead Girl, this grim story is brought chillingly to life.

Let’s Play Dead Girl is lead by a young and talented cast. Yessenia Rivas (left, above), who is Mexican-American, plays Josephine, the eager instigator of the diabolical plan. Yeena Sung (right, above), who’s Korean, is Juda, the more reluctant of the two. And Laura Guzman (center, above), who is Dominican-American, portrays victim, Consuelo, who longs for friendship and approval. Director Morán must be commended for bringing together such a skilled and diverse cast of up-and-coming young actresses. Seeing such a varied cast on screen is certainly much more reflective of the American population, and the movie-going audience worldwide. It is a welcome development we hope to see more of, with the world of horror leading the way. If these three fine young performers are any indication, there’s a lot of untapped talent out there just waiting to be discovered and given a chance to shine.

Speaking of talent, beyond that seen on screen, there’s a wealth of experience behind the camera as well. Writer/director Christian Morán, in addition to his previous short films such as , Silentious (2013) and Flawed God (2014), has worked behind the scenes in bringing the acclaimed works of Lucio Fulci, Takasha Miike and the legendary Roger Corman to home video. He shows a great visual flare here in everything from the reflection of a potential killer in the shiny blade of a knife, to the crisp, vibrant colors that permeate a seemingly tranquil, yet violent setting of an urban forest. Himself, born of Ecuadorian parents, Morán effectively uses his hometown of Queens, NY to ground his supernaturally-leaning story in reality. Other impressive talent Moran employs in getting Let’s Play Dead Girl to spring into life are cinematographer Jonathan Jang (Netflix’ Punisher), who makes a smooth segue from indoor to outdoor settings, special effects makeup artist, Ashley K. Thomas (Stake Land), creating the malevolent Alto in all its glory, and the music of Drum and A Tantrum, an American rock band which infuses the film with a very fitting 80’s retro sound.

Christian tackles some important and very timely subject matter in this blood-soaked tale. As ubiquitous as the internet is in all our daily lives, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Young people, as they try to find their place in this world, are particularly vulnerable to a variety of outside influences, all readily available with the touch of a keypad. Without the proper education, knowledge, social relationships and even supervision, they could succumb to negative forces that lead them down a dark path when coupled with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and delusional disorder, as was the case in Wisconsin (with the trial set for later this fall). Adults aren’t immune to believing in false information themselves, and it’s such a pervasive phenomenon, that it’s led to a rather unfortunate result here in the states. Bullying, or coercion to conform, can lead one to commit extreme acts rather than the alternative of being alone or left out. In an age where our so-called leaders are diagnosed as full-on bullies and a great many people accept it as OK, how are we able to protect our youth who are most subjected to this harmful tactic on an everyday basis? What makes Let’s Play Dead Girl so disturbing and effective is that it’s very real. It’s something we all need to be on the lookout for, as it could be happening right under our very noses.

Let’s Play Dead Girl is in the midst of an impressive festival run, including the recent New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival, and has won a number of awards. You can follow the film on the Let’s Play Dead Girl facebook page, and on Twitter. And beware of Alto!

— review by Brian de Castro