“Immortal” is an anthology of four short films, each written by Jon Dabach and united by a common theme exploring the repercussions of immorality.
Though a self-styled Hollywood outsider, Dabach was able to secure a solid line-up of familiar faces to bring his vision onto the screen, including Tony Todd (Candyman), Dylan Baker (Trick R’ Treat) and Samm Levine (Inglourious Basterds), as well as to recruit three other filmmakers to add their own directorial contributions.
Though all written by the same voice, Dabach’s four death-defying fables range widely in tone (and in quality), and all take a decidedly bleak stance on the concept of eternal life.
The opening piece, helmed by the most seasoned director of the bunch, Rob Margolies, tells the story of a beautiful and talented high school track star (Lindsay Mushett), who seems to have a knack for attracting the wrong kind of attention.
One day after witnessing an uncomfortable exchange in the hallway between young Chelsea and her over-friendly track coach, a concerned teacher, Mr. Shagis (Dylan Baker), pulls her aside to offer her a sympathetic ear. Unfortunately for Chelsea, Mr. Shagis is harboring an unfathomable secret. It turns out indestructibility can have a strange effect on people.
Baker is type-cast, as usual, but I always find his performances pleasantly uncomfortable to watch, especially as he melds his icy jaded cynicism with that unsettling sense that he’s up to something depraved (I was immediately reminded of his hard-to-forget role in 1998’s Happiness).
Other than Baker, Chelsea gets Immortal off to a somewhat flat start. Perhaps the biggest problem was the decision to make it the introductory segment. It suffers from a bilateral sense of abruptness, which creates an overall disorientating atmosphere. Just as it finally picks up pace to a potentially promising crescendo, it’s onto the next film with no sense of purpose or closure — which I suppose reflects the segment’s general hypothesis about the futility of immortality leading to the need to chase increasingly meaningless and unconventional thrills, yet also inadvertently conveys to the viewer that getting invested in anything so finite also turns out to be pretty pointless.
Gary and Vanessa
Director Danny Isaacs’ film about a married couple in desperate financial straits that leads them to make the ultimate sacrifice is a kind of dark and warped take on a Romeo and Juliet-style tragedy.
In a woeful fit of hopelessness, Gary (Brett Edwards) and Vanessa (Agnes Bruckner) decide that the only way to secure a future for their unborn child is for Gary to die in a horrible accident and allow Vanessa to collect on his life insurance policy. They determine that the easiest and most untraceable way to feign a deadly accident would be for Gary to plummet from the roof of their house (which is neatly and meticulously furnished with expensive looking décor unbefitting of a family whose only escape from financial ruin is death and insurance fraud) as he fixes their satellite dish (and ensures that his poor bereaved family will always get clear TV signal.)
However, Gary’s unexpected inability to die throws an inconvenient wrench in their otherwise fool proof plan, and unleashes an avalanche of instant karma that plays out almost as implausibly as immortality itself.
If it was not already apparent from my tone, this segment earned quite a few scoffs and dramatic eye rolls (the final scene made me throw up my hands and blurt out an indignant expletive). The twist at the end was certainly the highlight, though the half-baked means of getting there and the absurdly overblown consequences of the poorly concocted scheme were hard to take seriously enough for the payoff to matter.
Ted and Mary
Ted and Mary is easily the strongest entry into the anthology. Directed by Tom Colley, whose credits as a filmmaker have mainly been as the camera operator, it is a surprisingly poignant feature in a series of otherwise emotionally tepid films.
Elderly couple Ted (Tony Todd) and Mary (Robin Bartlett) have allowed a documentary film crew into their home to witness Mary’s assisted suicide after several painful years of battling cancer in the hopes that it will inspire others to advocate for legal means of ending one’s life. Of course things don’t go as planned, as it turns out that the cruel curse of immortality can spare one’s life even as it debilitates one’s body.
Todd and Bartlett’s depictions of a couple who have made peace with death only to find that there is no way out is both heart wrenching and disturbing, and Todd — mostly known for his ability to strike terror into the hearts of horror fans — does an exceptional job at conveying a sensitive and lovable character.
Even in this strictly time-limited format, Dabach finally has a script that tells a story from start to finish, and Colley succeeds at making it real enough to be genuinely emotionally evocative.
The final installment features Jon Dabach as both writer and director.
While crossing the street on his birthday, Warren (Samm Levine) is the victim of a hit-and-run accident that should have killed him. Instead, he is able to stumble home, where he lays low in order to heal from his injuries. Meanwhile it dawns on him that his miraculous recovery proves he isn’t like other people, and that he can use this newfound sense of invincibility to exact any kind of elaborate revenge he wants on the person who left him for dead in the street.
By the time you reach film #4, the theme is pretty well established, and there aren’t many surprises left to be had. However, this does not serve as a drawback for Warren. Instead of building up to yet another tired twist, Warren functions more as a character study that allows the audience to wonder how far Warren will actually go to get payback, especially on someone whose presumed mortality leaves them in a far more vulnerable position.
The film isn’t brilliant by any means or even particularly deep, but it is the segment that most invokes the question “What kind of person would I become if I knew I couldn’t die?”
Despite some lackluster storytelling in parts, IMMORTAL is worth a watch for anthology horror fans, especially to see some great performances from a solid cast, including horror icon Tony Todd. I especially recommend it if you’re in the mood for something dark and nihilistic.