Saturday 20 August 2016

Hank Boyd is Dead (US 2015: Dir Sean Melia) plus short interview with the director

One of my favourite films of the year so far, Sean Melia’s whip-smart acidly funny 2015 comedy about a dysfunctional family of killers seems to have sprung out of nowhere but definitely deserves your attention.

Sarah is a newbie catering assistant on her first job, serving up the food and drinks at a wake for Hank Boyd. The dead guy’s not so popular, what with being a convicted killer and everything, and so the guests at the wake are mainly family. But what a family! Hank’s brother David, a policeman with some, shall we say, control issues, presides over the proceedings. Then there’s grandma, the seemingly-in-shock Beverly, and wackiest of all is David’s sister Aubrey, who seems to have stepped straight out of Jack Hill’s 1964 demented family saga Spider Baby. Sarah starts to smell a rat when she realises that she had gone to school with Hank and is pretty convinced he isn’t, or wasn’t killer material. An overheard conversation between David and his cop partner Ray leads her to think that the wrong person may have been convicted of murder, but before she can do anything about it, she’s imprisoned in the basement while the whole family show their true colours.

Sean Melia’s short films – including the excellent 2008 movie You Don’t Know Me – suggested the producer, writer and director was capable of a decent feature length movie, but he’s surpassed expectations with HBID. Comedy thrillers can be really problematic, but Melia has his cast – Stephanie Frame as waspish but feisty Sarah, David Christopher Wells as on and over the edge cop David, and the brilliant Carole Monferdini and Liv Rooth as, respectively, Beverly and Aubrey – downplay their roles even when things on screen are ratcheted up to 11, which works so effectively. The script is also a winner, all sotto voce comments and hilarious back chat.

Stephanie Frame as caterer in danger Sarah in HBID
This is small budget stuff, but it doesn’t matter – the events in the house are interspersed with old Super 8mm family footage and interviews, which opens the film out and prevents it feeling too claustrophobic (most of the action happens in one location).  A great film that I can’t recommend highly enough. I can’t wait to see more from Sean Melia.

(This review was written for - Hank Boyd is Dead is on UK's Amazon Prime now).

I managed to snatch a few words with Sean Melia, director of Hank Boyd is Dead, via the magic of the internet:

DEoL: Where did the idea for HBID come from?

SM: I grew up loving all things horror and wanted to do something that was within the genre but also poked fun a bit at classic tropes like the psycho family, last girl standing, monster in the attic, that sort of thing.  I fell in love with the idea of a bickering clan of sociopaths with the same dysfunctions as a typical American family and how that could play against the horror of what was happening, sort of an Arrested Development meets the Sawyers or the Firefly brood.  Thankfully my cast got the joke and was able to stride the line between farce and terror.

DeoL: Tell me a little about the shoot – budget, locations etc.
Sean Melia

SM:  This is my first feature, self-financed by me with some help from family and friends.  Total budget was just under $50K, but everyone got paid for their work and it was a fun shoot.  I wrote the script with the idea of making a movie in a week since that was all the time I could afford to take off and we shot it in just under eight days. The location is my home town of Edison, New Jersey and the house is the house I grew up in. The cast is largely made up of actor friends that worked with me on my short films, but it wasn't just a matter of convenience, I thought they were all really great at what they did and would add tremendous production value to the project.  I'm looking forward to working with them again. 

DEoL: This was your first feature. Your previous short films (What Goes Bump in the Night?, The Administrator, You Don’t Know Me) have all dealt with seemingly innocent looking people showing a capacity for or being exposed to violence, and HBID builds on this. What attracts you to this theme?

SM: I think the key to all great horror or suspense movies is abnormal happenings in a seemingly normal day.  You Don't Know Me turns the tables on a prank, The Administrator is along similar comic lines of HBID where a hit man is asked to make a slasher styled snuff film starring an unsuspecting "client". My feature scripts all seem to deal with horrible versions of the American Family that I destroy in the most entertaining ways possible.  I'm a very empathetic person with a overdeveloped sense of right and wrong to the point where I feel guilty about dropping a gum wrapper on the ground. I guess I like to explore whatever is the opposite of that. 

DEoL: You seem to do a lot in your movies – writing, producing – even music. Do you have a preference?

SM: I enjoy all of it, although I'm looking forward to collaborating more on future projects and just sticking to the writing / directing gig.  Editing, producing, sound design, composing, web design, artwork and the like were all done by me out of necessity more than anything else. 

DEoL: What’s next – any future projects? 

SM: I have two other low budget scripts that I'd love to make in the near future, both of which were written before HBID but were a little too expensive to produce on our own.  One is a more serious thriller called I See A Darkness that deals with a family man who's contacted by an old roommate from a decade earlier who tells him that the house they used to live in is about to be torn down and he needs help moving the body buried in the basement. Welcome To The Johnsons is very much like HBID in tone and tells the story of a family of siblings and their significant others who gather at a lake house to stage an intervention, only to have the interventionist be replaced by a serial killer who specializes in writing first person obituaries.  If I can scrape up about $100K to do either of those I'm ready to go. In the meantime I'm writing a dark comedy about a yard sale gone wrong that I think is also going to be a lot of fun.  

DEoL: Sean, thanks a lot - we'll look out for them!

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