I should start with a little disclosure – Deadline was directed (and the story was co-conceived with screenwriter Tim Rainey) by my good friend Charlie Lawton. Not only do I know the director, but I also know two of the actors, and when visiting the area, I’ve stayed at the apartment that was used for the final scene. So this is full disclosure that I have some personal biases when it comes to this production. However, since Deadline is having its world premiere at the Toronto Independent Film Festival in a few days and I can sadly not attend either screening this upcoming weekend, Charlie was super generous and sent me over a review copy of the finished film. So I want to talk about it a bit.
After a bad break-up and a particularly bad accident, 20-something Trent (Rudyard Olejnik) finds himself quite dead. After a conversation with the anthropromorphic form of Death themself, he talks his way into a life extension of two weeks in order to make something of his life. With a tight deadline, he ropes his unassuming friends into helping him make a movie … while he still can.
There are a lot of ways the film could have fallen into cliché. Namely, the male 20-something slacker who feels trapped in his life has been done. It’s been done a lot. What saves Deadline from this cliché trap comes down to the framing. While Trent is sometimes sympathetic, when he’s being selfish and thoughtless, it’s by-and-large framed as being selfish and thoughtless. Even the recent ex-girlfriend, who could have been written as the cold, cruel catalyst for all our hero’s misery, has her own point of view shown later in the film, and both Trent and the audience see why she did what she did. There are no real bad guys in this story, which makes it more nuanced by the film’s end.
Another one of Trent’s exes Carmen (played by Lauren Maykut) could have been written as just an emotionally supportive lady person in Trent’s life, but Rainey writes her with her own mid-20s struggles. Carmen has her own character arc outside of our protagonist, probably the most of an arc out of any of the supporting cast.
Possibly the most interesting element of the movie (easily the aspect people will be talking about most after the screening), is Death as played by both Todd Charron and Suzanne Debra Miller. Since Death is non-corporeal, Death can change how Trent sees them at will. Sometimes female, sometimes male, and sometimes both male and female forms show up side by side because Death can do what they want. The time-honored archetype of Death has countless interpretations. This version of Death is witty, a bit harsh at times, but mostly soft-spoken and kind. This is where Rainey’s script really shines, and both Charron and Miller play the part perfectly off each other. I laughed out loud at more than one of Death’s quips. The cinematography and audio work during these scenes are especially fun as Death plays with reality and time itself.
The film does suffer a bit from pacing problems, mostly in the first arc. It takes so long to get to Trent’s break-up, let alone his accidental death, that it feels like the first third of the movie is prologue, some of which was unneeded. I don’t mind the scenes they included, but it needed some tighter editing for that section. That first third also features the more awkward character interactions, although mind you, character relationships and chemistry got stronger the further you got in the movie. The rest of the film also had the most jokes, and the most jokes that landed (save for a couple cringey jokes). In other words, I found myself liking the movie the more and more it progressed.
Deadline is a labor of love about making labors of love, no matter how weird the process gets. It’s also about friendship and learning how to grow the hell up. Ultimately, despite my heavy bias towards the production from the get-go, I can confidently recommend you give Deadline a watch.
Deadline‘s first screening as the opening feature film at the Toronto Independent Film Festival on September 8th is sold out, but its second screening on September 14th at 9:30 PM still has tickets. And keep an eye on Deadline’s Facebook page for upcoming information on larger distribution.