I studied English in college which means I spent years reading, researching, writing, and having professors mentally beat me down if I misused a comma. I bring this up because after years of writing, searching through thesauruses to learn new words, and for some reason thinking I could never use the word 'very' to describe things, one of my professors made a simple, obvious, and life-changing point:
"Writing, at its core, is about clarity."
While the statement seems glaringly clear (I don't know of anyone who writes specifically to confuse people) the act itself is easier said than done. It can be hard to pull back the bells and whistles and simplify an idea; I still struggle with getting to the point without decorating my words too much. Writing is about telling a story, informing, and describing — writing exists so people know what's going on. When faced with writing that doesn't check those boxes, it can be hard to digest.
And that's how I felt watching Deadly Crush. The lack of clear writing made the film a bit too painful to digest.
Sex, Love, and Messy Plots
The beginning of the film takes place in the 1970s and depicts the murder of two bandit lovers, Kit and Holly. The rest of the film takes place in present day and centers around our main character Brynn, a starving artist, and her romantic encounters with the ghost of Kit as she tries to unravel the story of the murder.
Writing this small synopsis made me realize how much potential was missed in this film. I'm a horror junkie and the story of a ghostly romance is normally right up my alley, but there was too much sloppiness and inattention to detail in Deadly Crush that made it go off the rails.
For starters, there was far too much sex in this film. Don't get me wrong, sex can often be imperative to a story or to a character's development, but in the case of Deadly Crush, it did not move the story along. Brynn and Kit (in various forms) have sex throughout the film — the most notable being an extended sequence where we see Brynn floating in the air while having sex with (seemingly) no one. Kit is a sexually charged character, but he is positioned as wanting to avenge the death of his beloved Holly, making the relationship between him and Brynn that much more confusing.
There are hints toward the end of the film that Kit's attraction to Brynn is born out of his longing to be with another woman like Holly, but this idea is never fully fleshed out. Part of me wants to believe the sex scenes were included for this purpose, but the other part of me believes they exist just to exist.
Brynn's relationship with Kit and his true intentions are complicated and probably the most confusing pieces of the film, but there are other parts of the story that add to the chaos of Deadly Crush. A lot of time is spent introducing the audience to characters who end up having little to no impact on the rest of the story — Courtney Gains' character in particular seemed wildly insignificant. Too many characters enter the story just to leave with loose ends.
And all the while, our characters' abilities in their world are never made clear. Kit sometimes is able to possess people, Brynn sometimes enters the ghost world, and I think at one point one ghost possesses another ghost. Writers need to establish the rules and physics of the world they create and, unfortunately, the laws of Deadly Crush's universe remain a mystery.
The opening sequence of the film provides the backstory of Kit and Holly, forty-something years ago, robbing a store which leads to their murders. This sequence is made up entirely of snapshot photographs of the robbery, scattered about the screen in a strange collage. Tonally, it doesn't really fit with the rest of the film, and I think it would have been better off mentioned in dialogue instead of the Windows Movie Maker-like moving photo journal.
And the cheap aesthetics don't end there—the rest of the movie is chock full of weird effects. Throughout the first part of the movie we're met with a bizarre smokey filter over certain scenes (presumably this is from the ghost's point of view) but it's hard to decipher why the mistiness exists at all.
In between scenes we're met with stock video transitions insinuating the passage of time. While the shots are gorgeous (really, they are very nice) they seem incredibly out of the place in regards to the color palette and feel of the rest of the film.
The filters and transitions probably would not bother me nearly as much if they — at the very least — remained consistent. Later in the film, as we enter and exit the ghosts' point of view, the picture becomes red and distorted, contrasting the grey fog that was already established as our glimpse into the ghosts' world.
There are plenty of cinematic tricks to slyly suggest an audience's point of view is changing. For example a sepia palette often means the film is in the past, and changing the camera perspective from third to first person will plant us inside a character's mind.
Being an indie film, I understand why the special effects in Deadly Crush weren't up to speed with a Michael Bay production, but I tend to think that less is more when it comes to special effects anyway. I don't want cloudy transitions and high-quality stock footage of the sky — I want an enticing plot with believable actors.
Missing the Mark
In the middle of watching Deadly Crush my boyfriend turned to me and asked, "Is this supposed to be like Scream?"
I knew exactly what he meant. Scream is a satire — it's a horror film made to mock other horror films by taking common tropes and teasing them throughout the story.
I understand why he thought Deadly Crush could potentially be a satire, because I wasn't (and honestly, am still not) sure myself. Satire done well is topical and present in the story line. Knowing a film is satirical changes the perspective on everything: from the acting to the costumes to the cinematography.
The reason satire in Deadly Crush remains questionable is because most of the film seems so serious while other parts are laughable. Most of the acting appears genuine and there really are no plot points that seem to be noticeably mocking political or social norms. But there are traces of it along the way; some of the aforementioned special effects, for instance, seem too bad to be real.
And so if Deadly Crush is, in fact, a satire, this point should have somehow been made far more clear.
And if it isn't? Let's just say that there's lots of room for improvement.
I continue to remind myself that Deadly Crush is an indie film and that no movie with a small budget and limited resources is going to be perfect. And with Dakota Aesquivel only having a few writing credits under his belt, the inconsistencies are forgivable in the end.
Aside from the strange filters and effects in some scenes, the movie is aesthetically pleasing. Aesquivel's shots have depth and purpose, and it's clear he knows what he's doing behind the camera. He managed to take his limited set options and create an acceptable setting that worked for the film.
Deadly Crush won best feature at the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival. Aesquivel was able to attract actors with impressive resumes (William Sadler was in The Shawshank Redemption and Courtney Gains in Children of the Corn) and shoot a visually pleasing movie.
But the fact remains that Deadly Crush has a sloppy and incoherent script. I didn't learn much about the characters and, honestly, I didn't care to learn any more about them. With fairly solid acting and casting credits slightly more significant than the average indie film, the plot is less than impressive. And if writing is truly, at its core, about clarity then Deadly Crush missed the mark.
Deadly Crush was written and directed by Dakota Aesquivel and stars William Sadler, Courtney Gains, and Aria London. Film Daddy was contacted to review this film.
Brittany K. King is a Chicago-based writer and founder of Film Daddy. She spends most of her time avoiding saying the word ‘gyro’ out loud.
Follow Brittany on Twitter @brittanykking.