Indie Feature Friday: “Hank Boyd is Dead” (2015)
From the opening of Hank Boyd is Dead, it’s clear that it’s going to be a complicated film. A teaser scene is intercut with the opening credits. The teaser is a clip from a documentary-style interview. The opening credits roll over a montage of old family Super-8 movie clips and newspaper stories about and photos of murder investigations. Already it seems that a serious horror / crime thriller story is coming. But there are also hints of comedy. For example, the interviewer in the mockumentary footage sounds severe and vaguely European, like Dieter from the Saturday Night Live “Sprockets” skits.
In fact, Hank Boyd is Dead is that most difficult-to-pull-off of genre blends, a horror-comedy. Billed as “a comedy of (t)errors,” its story does, in fact, serve up terror and dark comedy, both based on a series of social errors. This indie film “follows, in real time, a hapless caterer held hostage by a bickering family of sociopaths who will stop at nothing to protect their darkest secrets,” according to ChicArt Public Relations.
Hank Boyd is Dead is the first feature film from its writer-director, Sean Melia. Melia’s previous filmography includes the shorts You Don’t Know Me (2008), What Goes Bump in the Night (2009), and The Administrator (2011). Produced by Melia and Michael Hogan (who also appears on-screen), the film was shot over eight days in the director’s childhood home on a micro budget. It stars an ensemble of veteran NYC theater actors that worked with Melia on several past projects: Stefanie E. Frame, Christopher Wells, Liv Rooth, Carole Monferdini, and Hogan.
Sarah Walsh (Frame) recently moved from L.A. (where she “tried the acting thing”) back to her hometown of Nixon Park, New Jersey, to care for her terminally-ill father. To make ends meet, she works as a caterer. After the opening credits montage, she drives with her boss Linda (Jo Young) to tend to the post-funeral gathering for Hank Boyd.
Hank was a quiet loner who stood accused of a horrific crime when took his own life before standing trial. Sarah knew Hank in high school. She doesn’t believe that he could do something so terrible. Her suspicions grow stronger after she meets Hank’s older brother David Boyd (Wells), a local cop with a checkered past; his dimwitted partner Ray (Hogan), who’s charged with guarding the house; David’s mother Beverly Boyd (Monferdini), who’s in the early stages of dementia; and Aubrey Boyd (Rooth), his distant and obviously damaged younger sister.
Sarah’s suspicions turn to alarm when she overhears a dubious conversation between David and Ray. She learns they were involved in Hank’s death and may have nefarious plans for her as well. Meanwhile, Beverly has become convinced that Sarah is her long-lost daughter. Aubrey pines for the affections of her big brother — when she’s not trying to ruin him.
As the family’s dark secrets are exposed and the bodies pile up, Sarah must give the performance of a lifetime if she hopes to survive, all because . . . Hank Boyd Is Dead.
Both the horror and the comedy of this movie rest squarely on themes of police corruption, serial-killing, and incest. There is also a hilarious satire of the inbred, small-town “first family” and its small-time pomposity (particularly as played by Monferdini). Wells’ hybrid of narcissistic psychopath and doting oldest son is particularly effective, as is Rooth’s so-crazy-she’s-sane portrayal of Aubrey. And who doesn’t remember a high school classmate like Hogan’s Ray, the slimy juvenile delinquent who somehow ends up becoming a cop (in this case, a Vice detective, which is hilariously ironic). As portrayed by Frame, Sarah reacts to the chilling antics of this bizarre menagerie in a realistic yet comedic way.
Perhaps my only significant criticism of this film is that it has too much exposition in the form of dialogue. It could show viewers some of the backstory details that it instead tells them. A case in point is a long speech by an investigative reporter (Ron Rivera) to Aubrey. Yet Aubrey doesn’t know the entire dark family saga, so this scene is not completely gratuitous. Anyway, viewers need to stick with the film even when it’s a little slow. The third act serves up a surprise horror-comedy treat. It’s nicely foreshadowed, but the clue is easily overlooked.
The cinematography by Joseph White is impressive given the short shooting time and low budget with which the filmmakers had to work. The editing by Melia is probably the most artistic feat on the filmmaking side; it skillfully blends visuals from narrative and faux-documentary footage with retro (1960s?) Super-8 clips that are sprinkled throughout the film. I also enjoyed the original music, much of which is piano, by Chase Horseman.
Hank Boyd is Dead is now available via Amazon Video (where it is currently a Prime selection). For more information about the film, follow it on social media:
Frisco Kid’s IMDb Rating: 6 out of 10 stars
Disclosure: Loud Green Bird provided this “fair and honest” review in exchange for access to an online screener of the film via ChicArt Public Relations. No financial considerations were involved.