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Dead Air #MovieReview

This is our first review from Tim West. You can find Tim on Twitter as @FilmsInScotland. Please give him a follow and welcome him to hopefully working with us much more in the future.

Dead Air is the story of what happens to William, a man is suffering from the repressed memory of an old trauma. When William discovers a ham radio and stumbles into contact with a woman with a dark secret of her own, the deceptively innocent relationship slowly leads William to a horrible truth that changes him forever.

Dead Air Key Art

Title: Dead Air | Director: Kevin Hicks | Starring: Kevin Hicks, Vickie Hicks, Chris Xaver, Lucca Iocovetti, Madison Skodzinsky, Mackenzie Skodzinksy, Bruce Levitt | Release Date: Feb 19, 2021 | Runtime: 91 minutes | Language: English | Source: Justin Cook PR/publicist

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Dead Air Review

This falls into the small but compelling spooky radio genre, alongside such recent entries as The Vast of Night, Dark Signal, and that one episode of Truth Seekers. Here, newly widowed William (Kevin Hicks, who also directs) is convinced by his psychiatrist to start unpacking his late father’s possessions, both to help him overcome his long-suppressed issues around the latter’s death and to enable his daughters to begin coping with the loss of their own mother. Thus, he discovers his dad’s old ham radio buried in the basement and gets to playing with it. He soon finds himself in regular conversation with Eva (Vickie Hicks, who wrote), an agoraphobic shut-in who seems to spend her life in her basement. Both are lonely, both dealing with grief. But what is the strange hiss and jumble of music William hears whenever he disconnects?

Look, it’s hard to discuss this much without getting into what the promotional material seems to think is a spoiler, but it’s something that becomes readily apparent from the first twenty minutes of the movie and that you can guess from the trailer: Eva exists in the past. Specifically, the present for William is 1984, while for Eva it is 1946. The question is, why are these two people communicating? Why has William’s father’s radio put them in contact? It’s a strong premise, and one that goes in some interesting directions, with a couple of twists I didn’t see coming until I was right on top of them. Unfortunately, it’s let down by rather stilted dialogue and an achingly slow pace – which is a problem for a 90-minute movie like Dead Air.

The biggest issue is that William and Eva’s conversations all seem to exist solely to dripfeed us the information we need to solve the mystery. Each time they sit down to talk, they give us a new hint: what do they have in common, what is Eva doing stuck in her cellar all day, why can’t William remember the events around his father’s death? And that’s all fine, but they don’t give us much else to latch on to: there’s little expansion of either’s character that’s not directly relevant to the plot, little sense of who they were as people before they began talking to one another – even when they’re speaking directly about the past. Some of the most interesting scenes are thus the ones between William and his daughters, sat around the kitchen table away from the radio equipment. They give us a little peak into William the father, William the grieving husband and son. Eva doesn’t have any such let-up: every interaction she has is a clue, a key to her place in the puzzle.

I realize it’s contradictory to complain the film has a slow pace and to ask for more non-plot-relevant dialogue, but there we go. The issue’s as much in the delivery as the writing. Everything is so leaden, so dully staged. Seventy-five percent of the film must be close-ups of one or the other of the leads talking into a mic, with no change in scenery or composition to break things up. It gets exhausting, watching two faces for so long. Much of the rest is William talking to his psychiatrist, which does little in the way of offering relief. More conversations, more faces. Even a more varied colour palette between the three settings would go a long way to keeping things visually engaging.

It’s a shame. There’s some stuff to like in Dead Air. I’m a sucker for the time-travelling radio idea. The mystery itself is compelling enough; you can sort of see where it’s going, but there are a few wrinkles that keep it fresh. And the ending is actually pretty interesting. I wasn’t expecting it, and got quite excited when it went where it did. But it was too little, too late. Ultimately, if you’re going to do a talking-heads movie like this, the dialogue has to really sing and the acting has to be top-notch. Neither’s the case here, unfortunately.

The following stills are courtesy of Justin Cook PR.

Published inMovie ReviewsUnstarred Reviews

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