Chris Doyle and Andy Duensing (a.k.a. The Deagol Brothers) fall into common low-budget indie-filmmaker traps with their debut feature, Make-Out With Violence. The cast tries to mask their amateur status by underacting, which makes them look like they have only a passing acquaintance with how actual human beings behave. The Deagols use familiar, close-to-home locations, but strip them to just a few kitschy props, so they come off like something out of a cheap B-movie. And the movie doesn’t have a strong script so much as a handful of vivid scenes, strung together with establishing shots, inserts, montages, and rock ’n’ roll.
But there are good reasons why Make-Out With Violence wowed so many critics and audiences during its brief regional festival run. The Deagols have found ways to make a virtue of their limitations, largely through insane ambition. Make-Out stars Eric Lehning and Cody DeVos as twin teenage brothers who discover a missing, much-mourned classmate (Shellie Marie Shartzer) tied up in the woods, transformed into a lurching zombie. Lehning brings Shartzer back to the house of a vacationing friend, where he feeds her, dresses her, and pretends they’re a couple. Meanwhile, DeVos carries on the life of a typical young man the summer after graduation, trying to duck the attention of a girl who likes him while he makes a play for a girl he’s had a crush on for years. Make-Out With Violence is a horror film set against the backdrop of a quirky small-town romance, all narrated with Terrence Malick-style deadpan precociousness by the twins’ preteen brother.
Isolate any one of these elements, and Make-Out With Violence would become just another wan indie, cranked out by fledgling film students with more time than talent. (Even the movie’s striking lighting and pinkish hues aren’t super-impressive, given that digital cameras have given amateurs everywhere the power to generate beautiful images.) But the Deagols keep pushing the pieces of their story together, clearly digging their own weird juxtapositions of John Hughes, George Romero, and Wes Anderson. By the end, the dreamy guitar-pop soundtrack and the confluence of multiple coming-of-age stories weaves a strong spell, as the movie resolves into the story of a circle of immature friends trying to tame unruly adult emotions—the kind known to lunge forward and bite off the faces of the unprepared.
Key features: A 30-minute history of the movie and its creators, a slew of deleted scenes, live performances of the soundtrack, and a funny commentary track that has the filmmakers’ younger brothers (who worked on the crew) telling the unvarnished story of the film’s torturous three-year production.