[By Scott Starr] I love music. I’ve added so many songs to my Spotify playlist that the app will no longer allow me to do it without deleting some. I have an iTunes library as well, not to mention hundreds upon hundreds of CDs boxed up in my garage. When I was a kid, I collected 45s and a few albums, but most of the vinyl at our house belonged to my parents. I recall late nights pouring over album covers and lyrics while listening to everything from Steppenwolf to Dolly Parton. The headphones were two sizes too big, but all that mattered to me was getting my rock and roll fix...
...All of this is to say that when I saw the trailer for Deadwax I was immediately intrigued. A show about a song so powerful it can kill the listener? Drop the needle, baby. I’m in.
Deadwax is written and directed by Graham Reznick, best known for his sound designer work on films like Stakeland and The House of the Devil. Having worked in sound, Deadwax seems like a natural progression for Reznick’s career. He clearly has a passion for music and that passion is on full display here.
Deadwax centers around Etta Pryce (Hannah Gross of Mindhunter), a twenty-something female who hunts down rare records for collectors. Maybe I’m reading into it, but the character’s name sounds like a play on “at a price,” a fitting moniker based on her line of work. Etta has been tasked with finding a record that has become legendary among collectors. It is a single recording that may or may not even exist. It is rumored that when this record is played simultaneously with 3 other “key” records it will produce a sound that no one on earth has ever heard. While Etta tracks the record, a pair of police officers investigates the recent death of a man who has actually listened to it. As they collect evidence, officer Len Perry (Evan Gamble of American Sniper) slips on the dead man’s headphones and gives the record a brief listen. Once back at the office, Len experiences extreme disorientation while making coffee. It would seem that the record has produced some undesirable side effects. As Len struggles to remain standing, his partner finishes examining the record in another room. Len eventually staggers back to his partner, but when he finds him, a whole new mystery is opened.
Deadwax is equal parts neo-noir and horror, giving the viewer the best of both worlds. From a femme fatale who slinks through shadow-laden sets, to powdery corpses and gore-strewn offices, horror fans and mystery fans alike will have something to appreciate. There is also a real respect shown to audiophiles. The camera lovingly lingers on records and equipment, some of which had me salivating to hear it.
For a show about music, its soundtrack is its weakest element. While I enjoyed the pulsing electronic score, at times it felt intrusive. There is almost never a scene in which the soundtrack is not present, and that is to the show’s detriment. Some scenes would have been better without any music at all, allowing the story to breathe and its characters to grow more intimate. When one of the key records is played, its music is fairly indistinguishable from the rest of the soundtrack. It felt like a letdown for something so celebrated.
The highlight of the soundtrack should have been the legendary record’s music. Sadly, all we hear are crackles and hisses. I understand the need to keep things mysterious, so perhaps we will hear more as the show progresses. Obviously no composer could live up to the hype of a record that kills you, but I would have enjoyed hearing a few tantalizing bars from it.
Besides the soundtrack, my only other criticism lies in the show’s 15-minute runtime. Just as I was getting comfortable, the episode was over. Deadwax is being called a short-form series that consists of 8 parts, all of which presumably run 15 minutes in length. That’s a two-hour movie stretched out over 8 segments. Maybe it will work better once everything is released, but for now it seems like a bit of a gimmick.
Deadwax premiers on Shudder on November 15th. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m eager to watch more of it. The direction and concept are compelling. I want to know more about Etta and discover just how much the record has affected officer Len. If you enjoy music and the strange stories that often surround it, I recommend giving Deadwax a spin.
Deadwax is now available to stream on Shudder.
By Scott Starr