DEAD AIR ** USA 2021 Dir: Kevin Hicks. 90 mins
Cinema can sometimes curse you content derivative that it makes you want to scream. Cinema can also delight you in executing time worn ideas effectively and with style. One doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel each time out. But you have to look like you know some of the tools. DEAD AIR (2021), directed by Kevin Hicks and written by Vicki Hicks (who appears in role of Eva) is a thriller that doesn’t thrill until the last 30 minutes.
The story concerns William (Kevin Hicks). While cleaning out the home of his deceased mother, William stumbles across a few belongings of his father, who died when he was just a boy. He discovers an old ham radio and several diary like booklets. William enters the world of ham radio and connects with Eva (Vicki Hicks), who he learns suffers from paranoia and agoraphobia. They strike up a distant friendship that makes up the first hour of the film. This is done with such excruciating slowness that it may cause people to shut the film down altogether. In between conversation with Eva and some effective family moments with Williams’s two daughters we find something else trying to reach out across the airwaves. A memory, an event from childhood? Or is it something else that has entered their lives.
Interesting story marred by the glacial pace of the story: DEAD AIR (2021) tries to develop the roles of William be telling of his life before and his children. Granted, there are genuine moments of sadness and humor. The connection with Eva gradually unfurls as they talk of their past loves, losses, and trips to Germany. The trouble is the audience is treated to every single detail delivered at a pace that could have been put into 20 minutes of screen time, or better still left to a theatrical two hander play or radio drama. There is no relief or change of pace to titillate the viewer.
The final 30 minutes do provide a change by making strange under developed claims. The pace does pickup. The ending seems hurried to get its point in and suffers from what I will simply call the “Curse of M. Night Shyamalan,” whose style I personally loath as a writer, producer and director.
DEAD AIR (2021) is not without its good points in terms of visuals that were obviously on a budget. The film tends to fades to black at the end of most scenes, further crushing the pace. William doesn’t change his wardrobe a lot but that is simply a budget point. Scenes with Chris Xaver as Dr. Jennings, who is treating William for repressed memories, work for a time. After the third such scene, though, coupled with pace and one note line delivery, the audience may find themselves understandably numbed. A key moment (unintentional?) is the choice of the name Eva connected to a revelation by William that is left to flounder.
The film brightens when the children Mindy and Shauna, played by sisters Mackenzie and Madison Skodzinsky, with their wisecracks, and little moments of ‘kid logic’ are onscreen. Do they not wonder why Dad spends so much time in the basement alone with a ham radio? Luca Iacovetti does better in the role as the delivery boy with good line delivery and actions plus looking like he is engaged in the story.
DEAD AIR (2021) is a good 30 minute thriller with an oddly underdeveloped ending. The drawback is the fact that the film runs 90 minutes.
Review by Terry Sherwood