In Sean Melia's first feature film Hank Boyd is Dead, Sarah Walsh (Stefanie E. Frame, They're Out of Business) is a struggling actress who moved back home to care for her terminally ill father. As the film opens, she's working as a caterer at the post-funeral gathering for Hank Boyd, a quiet loner accused of a horrific crime who killed himself before going to trial. Sarah remembers Hank from high school as an unusual yet not particularly threatening young man, a feeling that gets reinforced when she overhears a conversation between Hank's brother, a local cop named David (David Christopher Wells, Broadway's The Coast of Utopia), and his partner Ray (Michael Hogan, Coffee and Cigarettes). With Hank's increasingly demented mother (Carole Monferdini) adding to the chaos and an obviously troubled sister, Aubrey (Liv Rooth, The Bleeder), seemingly torn between a fierce loyalty to her brother and constantly sabotaging him, Hank Boyd is Dead is a pitch black comedy that proves sometimes in cinema it's not about how much you have for your budget.
Winner of Best Drama at the Atlanta Horror Film Festival and named a Platinum Award-winning film by Spotlight Horror, Hank Boyd is Dead was shot over the course of eight days in Melia's childhood hometown of Edison, New Jersey. Melia utilizes a cast comprised mostly of New York theater and television actors, including several past collaborators, a fact that may explain the ensemble cast's strong chemistry.
Of course, it could also be explained simply by the fact that Melia has cast some mighty fine talent here.
As Sarah, Stefanie E. Frame is absolutely spot on in portraying the relatively quiet young woman who finds herself, in essence, caught in the performance of a lifetime that her life may very well depend upon. Frame struck me as a weird mix of Julie Hagerty meets Shelley Duvall - think about that for a minute.
Frame could have so easily turned in a caricaturish performance, yet she infuses Sarah with a rich humanity that also taps into that incredibly dark streak of humor. It's a tricky performance and she nails it.
Arguably tasked with the most complex character, David Christopher Wells somehow manages to keep everything real despite the almost absurdist nature of everything that unfolds. I'll admit it ... I even found myself contemplating Beckett's Waiting for Godot the more the story began to unravel.
Liv Rooth's take on Aubrey, an obviously fragile human being with a labyrinthian personality, is absolutely inspired and surprisingly emotionally resonant. It's yet another character that could have so easily been a caricature, and in just the right moments is, but ultimately is embodied with humanity and melancholy. As Ray, Michael Hogan plays the ideal sidekick to David's more dominating personality, while Carole Monferdini plays a woman slightly on the edge of dementia yet perhaps the most normal one of the bunch. Both Hogan and Monferdini shine here along with the rest of the film's ensemble cast.
Joseph White's lensing avoids the lazy gimmicks so often found in this kind of film, especially when it's a low-budget affair, while Chase Horseman's original music complements the film's weaving together of humor and horror to near perfection.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic