In My Dead Ones, we follow Davi (Nicolas Prattes), an absent-minded film student caught in a voyeuristic daze as he secretly documents the private lives of his fellow students. One day he’s approached by the charismatic Jônatas (André Hendges) and the two form a quick connection as Jônatas exposes Davi to a new world and inadvertently ignites his latent delusions, sending him down a dark path where fantasy and reality become just as indistinguishable for the viewer as they are for Davi.
My Dead Ones straddles several genres such as crime drama and psychological thriller, but at its core this is a serial killer film–a genre at its best when the act of killing takes a backseat to exploring the mind of a murderer. The body count here is low, however the kills feel substantial. They’re messy and brutal but handled with a restraint that knows when to pull back from the carnage around Davi to reveal what’s going on in his head. The care placed in the framing, from tight studies of every minute facial twitch to distant & alienating wide shots emphasizing distance between Davi and people in his life, wouldn’t have the same impact if not for the impressive physical acting from Prattes.
It’s a demanding role that requires Prattes to move between selling the violence and intense focus of snuffing out a life to the relief of a successful kill as well as the ensuing fear and shame, all wordlessly and in the span of seconds. The delusions that set the stage for his misguided crusade to put together the pieces of his family (which was torn apart by some hazy tragedy) through mercy killings create an interplay between his internal and external life, leaving the viewer struggling to parse fantasy from reality. The effect is amplified by a small supporting cast who give glimpses into Davi’s humanity while also tormenting him as his mind fills in gaps and pauses with murderous commandments to keep freeing people from the tragedy of their lives to, ultimately, help mend the tragedy of his own.
Davi’s character is hard to pin down, at times shy and awkward but with a sociopathic charm that he brings out when it suits him. A romantic fling with Doris (Bianca Müller), a bookstore clerk and former dancer injured in a drunk driving accident, shows attempts at being thoughtful but there’s a calculated manipulation underlying the sweetness as he pressures her into being with him via gifts and cornering her at work. His relationship with Jônatas, on the other hand, shows us a much more human and vulnerable side of Davi as the two share a more natural chemistry. Perhaps the most essential character in our understanding of Davi is his grandmother, Maria (Neusa Maria Faro), who seems to live in a garishly lit epitome of 1950’s kitchen kitsch as she bakes a continuous flow of desserts when she isn’t guiding him from victim to victim through ominous suggestions.
My Dead Ones isn’t without its faults. The color palette is a kaleidoscopic barrage that usually serves the surreal visuals well, but when Davi browsing his computer looks like he’s in the middle of a Tokyo pachinko parlor you get the feeling that they might be trying to use every crayon in the box. There are also glaring plot conveniences that pulled me out on a few occasions and some bizarre decisions made in the climax but most of the time this is exactly what I want out of a serial killer movie. It’s a character study with a steady flow of surprises and misdirection that kept me wanting to understand more about how we got to where we ended up and how much of what I’ve experienced I can trust–which definitely makes for a vibrant source of analysis that justifies multiple viewings.
9 out of 10