“Dead Weight”: Wisconsin-made horror film is like a Wausau “Walking Dead”

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If you’re looking to set your horror film in a bleak, unforgiving hellscape, Wisconsin in January should fit the bill nicely.

That’s what Wisconsin fimmakers Adam Bartlett and John Pata took advantage of in their zombie film “Dead Weight,” a low-key, low-budget movie that works effectively within its budgetary limitations, emphasizing character and tone over action and gore. I first saw “Dead Weight” a year ago on Wisconsin Public Television’s “Director’s Cut” — Horizon Movies just released it nationwide on DVD.

The opening is familiar — a mysterious outbreak is taking over major U.S. cities, killing children and turning adults into flesh-craving undead. Charlie (Joe Belknap) has been hiding out with a small group in the wintry fields and abandoned of central Wisconsin. But eventually, he wants to make it home to Wausau to reunite with his girlfriend Samantha (Mary Lindberg).

“Dead Weight” ambitiously cuts between Charlie’s long, arduous journey and the story of Charlie and Samantha’s relationship pre-outbreak, told in reverse chronological order. It’s the contrast between the two storylines that makes “Dead Weight” a cut above the usual horror film, the contrast between the brightly saturated colors of the good old days and the somber, washed-out palette of the present day.

It really gives you a sense of the stakes for Charlie’s journey, but it also underscores how much Charlie has changed, how far he’s devolved in this brutal new reality. “Dead Weight” is less about zombie-killin’ and more about the evil that men do to other men in the name of survival. “Dead Weight” ends, very effectively, cross-cutting between Charlie and Samantha’s first meeting and their dramatic reunion in Wausau,

While the film’s tone is somber, the commentary track with Bartlett and Pata is positively giddy, as they crack jokes and enthusiastically point out all the Kurt Russell references and other Easter eggs they hid in the film. The commentary track with Belknap and Lindberg is a little less goofy, although still witty and amiable. The DVD also includes outtakes, behind-the-scenes featurettes and extended scenes.

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