If you can tolerate the mumblecore genre, there’s enough to enjoy in co-writer / director Clay Tatum‘s “The Civil Dead” to keep things humming, even though the film drifts a bit and feels too long. With observational humor and an original screenplay that’s perceptive about human nature, this slacker ghost story is a low-budget film that succeeds on many levels.
With his wife Whitney (Whitney Weir) out of town, loner Clay (Tatum) has big plans to loaf around the house and drink beer. Concerned about her unemployed photographer husband, Whitney begs her better half to get outside and try to get his creative juices going while she’s away. With camera in hand, Clay heads to a park to snap some pictures. As chance would have it, he runs into his long lost childhood friend, Whit (Whitmer Thomas, who co-wrote the script) who seems to appear out of nowhere. The two men spend the rest of the day catching up, and their reunion is a little awkward — especially when Whit reveals that he’s a ghost and Clay is the only person who can see him.
It’s a fun premise for a movie, and there are plenty of “dead guy” jokes that are genuinely amusing. A lot of Thomas and Tatum’s script is based in truth and feels very authentic (like when Clay needs rent money, he wonders aloud if Whit can rob a bank since he’s invisible to everyone else). It’s a good buddy story until Whit refuses to leave Clay’s side, forcing him to face his inner demons.
The film provides its share of cringe-inducing moments, and both characters face a lot of awkwardness. The protagonist is unlikable, a guy with a big ego who just wants to be left alone. The two men’s friendship is uncomfortable, especially when it becomes clear what a huge jerk Clay actually is.
Tatum drags the material out with unnecessary scenes and situations (at least 20 minutes could be cut from the film without hurting the story), but the chemistry of the two leads and the originality goes a long way. “The Civil Dead” is an atypical ghost story about a loser who found what he needed to turn his life around.
By: Louisa Moore