Shaun Of The Dead is an institution. For a director to come right out and openly describe his movie as a female version of it is not just brave, it’s downright cocky. Thankfully, Night Of The Living Deb, as its tongue in cheek title suggests, is just as warm, gory and funny as its British, male counterpart. Maybe (whisper it) even more so.
Our heroine is Deb (the hugely likeable Maria Thayer), an unlucky in love but still optimistic young singleton enjoying the Fourth Of July celebrations when she stumbles upon the guy of her dreams. Unfortunately, he’s betrothed to someone else. However, after accidentally breaking them up, by way of a mix-up with a White Russian, Deb finds herself in bed with him.
The following morning, as she pretends to snooze, he schemes on the phone with his buddy to get rid of her. Naturally, as this is a rom-zom-com, not only does he find her almost impossible to evade but, once he has managed to boot her out, he discovers the zombie apocalypse is in full swing and finds himself stuck to her once more as they fight together to survive.
It’s a familiar setup, one that’s been explored to varying degrees of success in Shaun, Warm Bodies, Life After Beth and, earlier this year, Joe Dante’s Burying The Ex (review). Over the past ten years, the rom-zom-com has graduated from nervous freshman to confident senior, so we should be demanding slightly more from it and, in this regard, Night Of The Living Deb really delivers.
Hilariously, consistently funny right from its very opening moments, the movie is rocketed along by the hyper-energetic, adorable and hugely-committed Thayer who not only rocks a pair of jelly shoes like no other woman her age possibly could but manages to be sweet, charming and utterly believable as Deb. She’s the movie’s beating heart, funny bone and gooey centre and Thayer takes to the role with aplomb.
The actress and comedian has made her mark over the years, in bit parts, in flicks like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and on TV shows such as Arrested Development, but here Thayer really stakes a claim for herself as as leading woman here. Likewise Michael Cassidy is, naturally, quite dreamy as her paramour but he’s also perfectly at home with the comedy side of things, even nabbing a few of the funniest lines.
The two have great chemistry, bouncing off each other when things start to go downhill. Cassidy’s Ryan even quips early on “How do I know you’re not one of them!?” to which Deb deadpans “I’m speaking to you in words“. Many of Night Of The Living Deb‘s cleverest moments, as is probably evident from its title (and poster, where Deb has spray-painted over the word “dead”) come from its many nods to zombie movie lore.
For example, when Deb is trying to escape a zombie horde, ramming them hysterically with her car, she and Ryan banter about whether they’re the slow, ambling type, or the jogging, 28 Days Later type. Striking a delicate balance between paying homage to and ripping classic movies off to gain favour with fans is tricky, but Night Of The Living Deb handles the challenge eloquently, chucking plenty of gentle nods while simultaneously forging ahead with its own mythology.
The movie was clearly a passion project for director/co-writer Kyle Rankin, who only has one previous feature credit to his name (the zany creature feature Infestation). His sophomore effort was Kickstarted into existence, envisioned as kind of a love letter to Portland, Maine (gorgeously captured here) and the zombie movies he grew up watching.
It succeeds as both, the horror and comedy elements are well-blended and the central couple are gamely supported by a bunch of talented newcomers (several of them Rankin regulars). Thrown into the mix is the always welcome Ray Wise; so brooding and serious in Digging Up The Marrow earlier in the year, he really gets to cut loose here and appears to be having an absolute ball.
For those waiting for a rom-zom-com to rival Shaun, Night Of The Living Deb is it. Sweet, funny, with fantastic practical effects and a cool twist on a familiar trope towards the end, it makes a strong case for the ways in which these kinds of movies can be used to subvert the horror genre. As bold a claim as it is, this is a female Shaun Of The Dead that works exactly as well as you’d hope it would. Maybe (whisper it) even better.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Kyle Rankin
Writer(s): Kyle Rankin, Andy Selsor
Stars: Maria Thayer, Chris Marquette, Ray Wise, Michael Cassidy
Studio/ Production Co: Cocksure Entertainment
Length: 85 minutes