Dead Within (2014)


It’s always nice when a director is bold enough to take the zombie genre and try to transform it in to something completely unique. While “Dead Within” doesn’t re-invent the wheel, it’s definitely a gripping view of the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. And I don’t speak particularly of the walking dead, so much as what happens when survivors have to live with one another and with the guilt and shock of the lengths they’ve gone through to survive. Is it worth surviving the end of the world if you aren’t really living? Can you really trust anyone once the world has resorted to the survival of the fittest? Can you justify murdering potential infected to your conscience? How do you outrun your fading sanity and crushing guilt when you’re stuck in a small room in dead silence?

“Dead Within” is a film mainly comprised of two characters, characters that were happy and normal once. Director Ben Wagner brings us in to their lives briefly in a montage that shows what they used to be before the dead began to rise and a mysterious infection spread. Rather than draw out the explanation, director Wagner cuts straight to Mike and Kim, a young couple whose managed to stay alive through the apocalypse by transforming their small cabin in to a boarded up fortress. Everyday Mike goes out to hunt for supplies, but as supplies dwindle, and the search spans in to a wider environment, tension begins to boil the surface. Especially when Kim’s conscience begins to gradually torment her after she and Mike were forced to kill to ensure their own preservation.

“Dead Within” conveys a deeply claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere mainly by confining our characters to their small cabin for ninety five percent of the film. Mike tells Kim brutal stories of barely surviving through skirmishes with the infected to find food, prompting her to recede in to the cabin and only be able to find solace in the stray rays of sunlight that seep in through the boarded windows and skyline. But elements begins to appear that make the pair come to odds, including Kim’s recurring nightmares, her conversations with a park ranger over a walkie talkie that may or may not be in her imagination, and the growing suspicion that Mike may purposely keeping her confined to the cabin.

Though stars Dean Chekvala, and Amy Cale Peterson give top notch performances, most of the narrative belongs to Peterson and her slow descent in to madness. Sadly, “Dead Within” completely runs out of steam by the fifty minute mark leading in to a series of hallucinations that felt a lot like padding and injection of gore for the sake of satiating audiences expecting full on zombie chaos. By the one hour mark I was certain “Dead Within” should have trimmed five minutes from its run time. In either case, “Dead Within” is still a compelling, and maddening bit of zombie apocalypse fodder that examines the psyche of the survivor and what happens when they’re overcome with grief, shock, and cabin fever.