Moviehole at SXSW : Deadroom delivers


Tim Basham with one of 2005’s highlights

The SXSW Film Festival is still a few days away, but we’ve pre-screened a few films in advance. Here’s one made right here in Texas.


What would you say if you could speak with the dearly departed? The possibilities are explored in Deadroom which I pre-screened for its SXSW premiere later this week.

Four Dallas filmmakers—Yen Tan, James M. Johnston, Nick Prendergast and David Lowry—combined forces and produced four separate, but interrelated, stories surrounding conversations between the living and the dead. And though you won’t be shocked or scared out of your socks as in seeing films like Sixth Sense, you will be riveted by the conversations.

Each of the four stories is set in a room with a table and two chairs. However, the similarities end there. The furniture, the lighting, the entire feel of every story changes, as does each conversation.

First, there’s the young woman (Alana Macias) who can’t quite remember how she came to being dead. A man (Jeff Griffin) patiently tries to help jog her memory by getting her to discuss her life growing up. Then there’s the journalist (Bill Sebastian) whose interview with the famous author Percy (Grant James) begins to slide into an unexpected turn. The conversation between Julie (Lydia Miller) and her late, gay co-worker Trevor (Paul T. Taylor) is the lighter of the four conversations, giving us a chance to breathe before going back to one of the heavier stories in the film.

And last, but not least, we have Kate (Kelly Grandjean) who wants to tell her late husband Layton (Harry Goaz) something very important about their relationship. As Layton tells Kate they will be soul mates forever, the conversation begins to escalate into arguing with Kate breathlessly asking, “What part of ‘till death do us part’ don’t you understand?!”

While all four stories were well played, the conversation between Kate and Layton had a chemistry of strong dialogue and excellent acting which anchored the entire film. You might remember Goaz as Deputy Andy Brennan from the TV show Twin Peaks.

Although Lowry half-jokingly says they had hoped to snag a big name like Holly Hunter or Anthony Hopkins, the final cast gave admirable performances in spite of not being major box office draws. Grandjean was especially strong in her performance as Kate. And there’s a lovely score by Daniel Huffman.

Intelligent, independent films such as Deadroom are supposed to be slightly mysterious, mystifying and thought-provoking (it’s part of their appeal) but this is one reviewer who admits to not “getting it” when he doesn’t. (And I’m sure someone will soon be nudging my brain into sudden awareness.) BUT…what’s the significance of the crying woman and small child at the beginning of the film? (Nudge me later.)

“Our life is made by the death of others,” it says in Deadroom’s promotional materials. And a room for speaking with the dead is a killer idea.