Starring Jeff Kober, Noah Gaynor, Sophie Faulkenberry
Directed by Tony Glazer
Written by Jon Adler, Ted Weihman
Originally completed in 2018 under the alternate title Block Island, DEAD SOUND is purportedly inspired by “true events” but doesn’t take any amount of celluloid to explain just what exactly is so “factual” regarding the film’s sequence of unfortunate occurrences. Maybe the validity of such a claim was based on one individual’s knowledge that real-live people travel by boat every day, that actual people have at one time or another missed a party they had high hopes of attending, or maybe, it was someone’s certitude that—at many points in history—people have died at sea. Maybe such authenticity dwells within those general points and less on one particular event. Or maybe it’s just a marketing stratagem. I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure, the truth is out there…
Hoping to participate in the house party of a lifetime, four friends straight out of a stereotype vending machine travel to a marina in high hopes they’ll make their scheduled boat ride to Block Island—a popular tourist locale that also happens to be inhabited by their trust-funded buddy and his parent’s mansion. As fate (or the script) would have it, Jake (Noah Gaynor), Ashley (Sophie Faulkenberry), Nicky (Matthew Gumley) and Carson (Max Miller) miss their ship and shift their focus to the local inhabitants for assistance. Of course, such denizens are comprised of floozies, drunks and hicks of a violent disposition (go figure). Equipped with their parent’s hard-earned money, the young’uns make an offer to a questionable (but devilishly handsome) patron named Bobby (John Behlmann) who happens to own a boat. Putting on the charm, he accepts and introduces them to his crotchety cap (Jeff Kober) before setting sail. If you guessed that the naïve swathe of collective raging hormones arrive at their destination without incident—then prepare to have your expectations subverted! As anyone might expect, ol’ Bobby and captain Stone are not the friendliest of people and have ulterior motives with their newfound customers.
As far as single-location thrillers go, DEAD SOUND isn’t actually bad, it’s just an utterly by-the-numbers film you’re bound to forget once it’s over. The kind of movie you shrug and respond with a vacuous “eh” when someone asks of your opinion on it. Each of the protagonists embody a particularly cliched persona seen in a high school comedy and/or typical slasher. There’s the comedic asshole obsessed with getting laid, the alcohol-obsessed jock (also obsessed with getting laid), there’s the brooding leader that ‘plays by his own rules’ (but also has a heart of gold), and there’s the seemingly innocent beautiful gal that has no qualms with lifting her dress and flashing complete strangers. So yes, their lacking personalities and resulting illogical decisions make them perfect victims for those of a manipulative temperament.
Once the group find themselves hostage to the whims of Bobby and Stone, there’s little in the way of revelation and the questionably casual approach to action doesn’t exactly make for exciting viewing. During one scene, el-jocko takes one of the tormentors off-guard, only for his nearby friends to do NOTHING. They watch him gradually lose the duel instead of doing a damn thing. Such complacency becomes irritating to watch and the lack of tight editing during these scenes causes them to be annoyingly prolonged. An example of this involves Ashley being forced to intake drugs while hero-boy (now armed with two barrels of buckshot) dwells just outside the cabin—doing something? There’s such a delay between his maneuvers and the cruelty being dealt to Ashley that it incites frustrated questions like “Where is he?”, “What is he doing?” and “Why is he taking so long?” Such inaction is made all the more confounding due to the film’s imprecise blocking. The boat is quite small, but it’s never clear as to where certain characters are when certain events are taking place. If something occurs within the cabin, those outside are unaware, and similarly, if something occurs on the deck (like a human being impaled) those inside are unable to hear any of the commotion or sense anything wrong (like smelling/seeing smoke from a large fire). It’s one boat, but the inconsistencies make the interior and exterior feel like two different locations further apart than they really are.
As DEAD SOUND paddles to the climax, a more cartoonish tone is adopted, and lead villain Bobby begins spouting drug-addled taunts and feeble “bad guy” rhetoric. He comes off like a cackling malefactor from a comic book expositing motivation when he really should just be doing the killin’. As far as the surrounding performances go, they’re all serviceable to their individual typecast roles, but if I had to mention a standout, it would be Jeff Kober’s portrayal of Stone. He brings an actual sense of pathos and depth to an otherwise standard exercise in entitled kids being force-fed comeuppance. He only has a handful of speaking moments and no matter how pretentious his dialogue becomes (big banks, rich preying on poor, etcetera), he delivers his verbiage as though he—Jeff Kober—truly believes in what”s coming out of his mouth. It’s a real shame he’s not given more to do.
DEAD SOUND is a completely average thriller that plays to convention, offers little in the way of surprises and has nothing to do with the dangers of audio. It’s a competently produced film that’s buoyed by its good intentions, but any lasting impression is equivalent to a pebble thrown to sea; dissipates to depths with barely a wake.