She Never Died (2019)

OCTOBER 10, 2019


Back in the proper days of HMAD, I used to inadvertently watch sequels to movies I hadn't seen fairly regularly. Mostly it was things like the Hammer series (Dracula and Frankenstein), when I knew I was watching the 5th part of a franchise I had little familiarity with, but every now and then there'd be something more along the lines of She Never Died, which is a "sister" sequel to He Never Died, a movie I hadn't seen and wasn't even aware it was a sequel prior to sitting down to watch it. In fact if I wasn't moderating the post film Q&A with director Audrey Cummings and star Olunike Adeliyi I probably would never have known it was related to another movie; I found out while doing some basic research sitting in my chair waiting for the movie to start, at which point I hoped it wasn't a Saw II kinda deal where the movie would barely make sense without knowing the previous film's plot.

Luckily, it was not - far from it, in fact. If I'm understanding correctly, there is only one returning character, who appears at the very end of the movie in a scene that seems like it's setting up a sequel anyway (i.e. a scene that would probably have you thinking "oh I bet this will be cleared up in the next one"). So if you haven't seen it but want to see this one, I can assure you you're not going to have any trouble, as they merely exist in one universe - it'd be like saying you *had* to have seen Jackie Brown before you saw Out of Sight, simply because they share Michael Keaton's character (an example I bring up because Jackie star Robert Forster just passed away and I want to remind you all of how great that movie is, and how incredibly great he is in it).

Adeliyi plays Lacey, a homeless woman who is fixated on a man named Terrance who frequents a mysterious building near where she sleeps at night. The same building seems to be under surveillance by Godfrey, an aging detective who is apparently tracking this case despite objections from his superior. Before long the two of them meet and realize they share a common enemy, but while Godfrey wants to put him away, Lacey... well, she wants to eat him. Specifically his bones - Lacey is a cannibal but also seemingly has Wolverine-like regenerative powers that require marrow to work, and while she saw Terrance kidnap someone and bring her to his building (which is home to a human trafficking ring), she really wants him because "he has long fingers."

So yes, the movie has some dark humor to go along with its various sub-genres (cannibalism, survival horror, revenge thriller, plus another one that is treated as a surprise but will be obvious to anyone who saw "the original"), but it all works quite well, if you ask me. Maybe because I never saw the other one, but I was never ahead of the movie at any point - characters I thought were definite goners survive the film, while others who I thought would play a bigger part end up being sidelined. Lacey's antihero shtick is a bit well-worn, but Adeliyi's deadpan deliveries of the comedic lines and her physical prowess during the fight scenes kept it from being an issue, and she's surrounded by equally colorful characters that make up for it even more.

Even the villains are charismatic and amusing in their own way; Terrance and his sister/business partner Meredith have a very matter-of-fact way of talking about their business, and more often than not their conversations about their horrible line of work dovetail into something mundane like whether or not Meredith remembered to call their mother. This adds to the film's dry/dark sense of humor, which fell right in line with my sensibilities, and given that I didn't know it was going to be funny at all, I found this sort of stuff to be more compelling than the (minor!) genre elements that got the film into the festival in the first place. A second act scene where Lacey and Terrance come face to face for the first time is incredibly funny; it's almost a shame that this wasn't an "enemies team up to defeat a bigger enemy" kind of deal, if only to watch the two of them interact some more.

Really, the only flaw of the movie is probably due to the budget: it occasionally feels like they had to scale back things that may have been envisioned differently. We see very little of the trafficking business (this may be why the villains end up being kind of likable?) and Godfrey's police department looks more like the back office of a big box store or something, plus there's an abrupt cut near the end that robs us of what should be a big crowd pleasing moment (it plays as a visual gag instead, and it's a decent one, but doesn't quite live up to what we didn't get to see). Even the things that tie it into He Never Died seem underplayed, mostly laid out in what amounts to a puzzling epilogue - the movie honestly could have ended a few minutes sooner and would be stronger as a whole.

Otherwise, it's a winner. No, it's not really horror (some choice gore moments are really the only "horror movie" thing about it), but the way it blends some of the genre's tropes together and comes up with its own take on the material is quite refreshing, which is far more important to me than a movie checking off "zombie" or "monster" movie boxes anyway. From what I've learned about the first film, and what this one sets up at the end, it seems like they have an interesting little mythology coming together, and I hope their plans work out (a TV series followup to He Never Died is apparently in the works). If the money isn't there to properly bring it to cinematic life, it seems like it could easily be adapted into comic form, but I know I can't be the only one hoping to see Henry Rollins and Olunike Adeliyi fighting side by side down the road. Here's hoping!

What say you?


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