REVIEW BY JEREMIAH ROSARIO
I liked Dead Envy, I liked it a lot, but unfortunately a few major missteps prevent me from loving Dead Envy. Salt on the wound too, because these were missteps that could have easily been avoided. Close though, so very close (and again, I still very much enjoyed it - warts and all), but damn if it wasn't a hard feeling to shake.
Harley Di Nardo directs this compelling psychological thriller; his sophomore attempt at feature film making (Di Nardo has a 2016 credit as director of TV Movie, Blue Valley). He also happens to write and act in the film as well (playing the role of has-been rockstar, David Tangiers). Di Nardo does a fine enough job portraying Tangiers as a fragile, resentful, and rather soft spoken ex-diva. There's a physical gruffness to the character that quickly melts away in the face of adversity, making his relationship with both his wife Cecily (Samantha Smart) and those around him, almost painful to watch. You feel bad for the guy, but recognize that perhaps a good kick in the pants is in fact what's needed to snap him out of it.
Enter Javy Bates (Adam Reeser), a.k.a. the kick in the pants.
More or less the polar opposite personality of David Tangiers, Javy is confident, aggressive, and oozing with both talent, and wild fanaticism. He's mostly everything David used to be, and is on a very personal mission to ensure he becomes that person once again. And it's in that last detail, where Dead Envy finds most of its success. Both leads play incredibly well off one another, there's fantastic kinetic energy between them, and it's an absolute thrill to watch the power dynamics shift as we move further and further into the film. You're certain that either Javy dies, or David does - there's no middle ground compromise to be found within the narrative. It's great stuff, and makes for some very tense, wonderfully awkward moments.
Unfortunately, somewhere near the last third of the film things begin to derail, and Dead Envy's mostly harmonious thrill-ballad distorts into an out-of-tune jumble of noise. Tone is nearly ruined when the story veers off into the realm of the supernatural, replacing sub-surface plot details with unabashed "ghostly" exposition. We're also introduced to Javy's alter ego, the devil on his shoulder, an angrier - worse - dressed version of himself; the unneeded avatar with which he battles internally, though represented outwardly.
It doesn't work. At least, not for me.
We know he's got issues to work through, we know he's a dangerously psychotic head case, we didn't need to actually see a visual manifestation of it however. Especially not long after all the above has already been established. But...whatever. As I mentioned at the start of the review, it doesn't ruin the film. I was still glad to have watched it, and I think Harley Di Nardo does more than alright for himself given how many features he has under his belt. Hopefully the next outing (and I really hope there is one), builds on the strengths found in Dead Envy, and we get a better focused, more consistently toned horror romp.
Until then? Yeah, still give this one a go.