Necropath, the feature film debut of writer and director Joshua Reale, has had a long, strange trip . . . on a path that begins in 2014 as a short that found a wider audience as part of its inclusion in the 2016 indie-anthology Empire State of the Dead. Now, that short has been combined with two other award-winning short films to create the feature-length version of Necropath.
Warning: If you enjoy zombie movies, you’re not going to like this movie. Now that doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie, because it is a good movie. A great one, in fact. But this ain’t your pop’s traditional George Romero or Lucio Fulci zombie movie. And it’s not one of the many indie-streaming pieces of zombie slop clogging up Amazon Prime. Necropath is a zombie movie run through an unconventional, Bigas Luna surrealistic filter with a smidgen of Alejandro Jodoroswky’s impressionism and José Mojica Marins phantasmagoria. So, if their off-beat brand of psychedelic ambiguity open to interpretation (as with our recent reviews of 2021’s Blood Freaks and Welcome to the Circle) with their respective films Anguish, Santa Sangre, or the fubar’d supernatural exploits of ol’ Coffin Joe isn’t your cup ‘o joe, well, then you’re already dead. So stand tall in the mortuary corridor and let one of the Tall Man’s flying cuisinart balls take you the red planet . . . if Scag doesn’t slice off one of your ears, first.
We, well moi (Did your read our reviews of?), have been down this less-dialog-is-more narrative (that isn’t everyone’s cup of Coffin Joe) before with Jason Lester’s High Resolution and Vahagn Karapetyan’s Greek horror Wicca Book. As with those films, Reale’s debut feature is a film of sight, color, and sound that pushes the visual medium envelope of film; an art form that, at its core, is a craft based in “showing” and not “telling.” In the case of Necropath, Reale tears the ubiquitous 90% visual and 10% dialog film rulebook (stage is the reverse) in half, tosses it into Scag’s needle-strewn drug den, and goes for broke and allows his actors — through their use of props and body language — to bring on the hopeless fear and dread.
Well, what exactly do we mean by an “unconventional” serial killer-cum-zombie movie?
Well, this ain’t no A-List Brad Pitt-starrer or AMC-palpable living dead romp. Necropath is a film of darkness and nihilism (and FYI: the third act goes uber-brutal). It’s a film rife with odd-ball light sources, queasy-inducing framing, and a soundtrack that forgoes the trite and trope route of Blumhoused screeching-crescendo shock scare soundscapes for, well, a bunch of disconnected noises. And Necropath also forgoes with the prattling exposition on how we got here, in fact, the characters rarely speak at all. (And when they do speak, it’s none of that lazy, wild lines “Quick, run!,” “Look out!,” “He’s right behind you!” dialog daggit dung.) Ultimately, Necropath answers the felicitous question: What if Micheal Myers and Hannibal Lecter — or any criminally insane individual — were allowed to wander unchecked amid the chaos of a global pandemic. And what if he’s also infected with the zombie plague?
When that mysterious zombie plague rips across the globe, the virus’ spread is exacerbated by corruptions within an opportunistic pharmaceuticals industry. Amid the imminent demise of society occurring around him, a serial killer known as Scag (a stellar Moe Isaac) — a needle-pushing drug addict that’s also zom-infected — continues his murderous rampage with impunity . . . until he meets his match from the most unlikely person: a little girl who survived the slaughter of her family. And she’ll do whatever it takes to save her baby sister from Scag and his girlfriend/hoe, Crack Hag (Natalie Colvin, in another stellar turn), whose own zom-morphin’ kicked in her motherly instincts: she wants the baby. And, regardless of her age, our young “final girl” has to stand up, as the police officer on Scag’s trail, obviously, can’t kill him. And her dad? A useless puss-bag who, even with his briefcase and tie, is as morally corrupt as Scag: even in the face of a zero-game plague where compassion is key, ol’ pop is still a profanity-abusive husband and father threatening to divorce his wife.
While her name isn’t marquee-positioned on the theatrical one-sheet, the most recognizable name here is Cassandra Hayes, whose work we’ve enjoy in the B&S About Movies cubicle farm with the low-budget indies Amityville Death House, Mark Polonia’s Revolt of the Empire of the Apes, and Amityville Island. In fact, it was Cassandra’s presence that advanced Necropath to the top of the digital review stack. Courtesy of my Law & Order: SVU fandom, it was also nice to see her co-star, New York-based actor Nathan Faudree (great here as the dickhead dad), who appeared in “Hell’s Kitchen,” (which just had an off-network rerun this week that I re-watched; so that’s a sign right there) a 2018 episode of that long-running NBC-TV series.
And we’re glad it we advanced the film to the top, as we discovered Joshua Reale has a unique narrative vision and a great cinematic eye. Now, that — it seems — Necropath has reached the end of its path, we look forward to what Reale has in store with his next feature film.
While Necropath is comprised of three shorts — each dealing (realistically) with the opening throes of a zombie outbreak — Reale’s feature film debut isn’t an anthology film. And since I’ve never had the pleasure to watch those three shorts as standalone films, I have no way of knowing where one ends and one begins (since the film runs an hour and a half, we’re assuming each short is at least 30 minutes, with minimal, addition-connective frames shot). And if Reale never disclosed the fact that Necropath — the feature film version — was comprised of three shorts, you’d never know it.
As of late, a lot of short films trickle across the streaming-verse and those filmmakers, looking to increase their opportunities to have their works seen by a wider audience, have worked together to thread their films into a feature film narrative. Of course, most of these “feature films” culled from shorts, tend to have editing issues, inconsistent cinematography, and plots stymied by weak linking devices. Our beloved Amicus omnibuses of the ’70s, with linking crypt and shop keeps, and evil elevators and train passengers, are one thing: those films were scripted that way. It’s another thing to take a grouping of unrelated pieces-parts to make a feature film. And it doesn’t always work. (Editor’s Note: We have not seen the short-anthology Empire of State of the Dead and we are not taking that work to critical task in the context of the opinions expressed in this review.) One of the few times it works (beautifully) is when you have skilled artisans at the center, such as Argentinean Giallo-purveying brothers Nicolas and Luciano Onetti with their 2019 offering, A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio. And Reale’s film works at that level, even more so, because, as the Onettis required a ne’er-do-well disc jockey to thread a narrative, Necropath has no linking-character for consistency. Reale’s skills in the editing suite is the “consistency” that keeps the viewer engaged in the narrative. No linking required.
And it’s a narrative that is nauseating. I haven’t felt this unsettled by a film since Gaspar Noé’s arthouse-homage upending of the ’70s rape-revenge cycle with 2002’s Irréversible, courtesy of its brutal mix of sound, music, and images. Reale’s utilization of odd-ball lighting, gore, and a crazed sound pallet of perpetual, atmospheric hums, screeches, buzzes, and distorted, disembodied voices (we assume, from the head of Scag), and wailing emergency alert clarions, you’re left feeling as hopeless as the innocents victimized by a serial killer in the midst of a global zombie pandemic. The hopeless darkness of Alexandre Aja’s 2003 New French Extreme hit High Tension, also comes to mind in the frames of Necropath, even a touch of Ryûhei Kitamura‘s brutal (Am I the only one who liked it?) serial-killer trope-upending, No One Lives (2012). (You may see hints of Rob Zombie’s retro-homage oeuvres, as well, and as some who’ve watched Necropath have said. But it’s best not to mention that point and get Sam, the boss, started on Rob Zombie tear. Please, do not get him started on a Rob Zombie tear, for life is too short. Wink: Mum’s the word.)
Necropath is a fucking arthouse war zone that leaves you praying to God that a zombie plague never comes to fruition. Necropath is a film that raises the bar on indie-horror streaming norms — then takes the bar and plunges it through the arduous, rotten corpse of all other poorly-shot and edited and acted indie streaming horrors in its path and forces those filmmakers to step it up to an A-Game or just spare us the pain and go sling faux-Tex Mex food at a Chili’s. (And our irritable bowels kick in and we wipe our asses with their bogus film school degrees.) Necropath lets you know it ain’t gonna be a cool-verse with Jeffrey Dean Morgan swingin’ “Lucille” around and Norman Reedus being all sexy-smoldering, grungy-hot for the ladies in the audience. Necropath is a Private First Class Hudson “Game over, man!” world where you’re fucked. You die. Everyone fucking dies by virus, by drug addiction, by zom, and bye-bye. There’s no Operation Warp Speed to save you. End of story.
Necropath becomes available on all digital platforms on February 9th from Gravitas Ventures and Kamikaze Dogfight. You also can learn more about the film at Cayo Industrial Horror Realm’s official Facebook page and website. You can also visit the film’s official Facebook and Instagram pages for more photo stills. Another Kamikaze Dogfight release we’ve recently reviewed is Don’t Look Back.
Disclaimer: We received a screener from the distributor’s P.R. firm. That has no bearing on our review. We would have loved this movie even without the freebie. And that’s no feldercarb.