The idea of discovering supernatural beings would terrify most. Yet filmmakers have often explored the afterlife to great comedic effect. Finding a unique take on the dead could be difficult, but when confronting such a heavy topic, the film better be heavy on humor. Clay Tatum takes on triple duty in his 2022 Slamdance festival winner, The Civil Dead, serving as director, writer, and star of his film. With co-writer and co-star Whitmer Thomas, The Civil Dead is a perfect hipster buddy comedy while actually asking some rather big questions.

Despite being a great photographer, Clay (Tatum) is a slacker. His wife Whitney (Whitney Weir) believes he can do more with his time and talent, but instead, Clay scams his way to make ends meet. After completing another con, he goes out to shoot with his camera and reward her faith. Instead, he runs into an old friend Whit (Thomas), who follows him home for the night. However, the next morning, Whit reveals he’s more than just a chatterbox friend: he’s a ghost.

The Civil Dead 2023 Clay Tatum Whitmer Thomas

Much of The Civil Dead feels inspired by The Comedy and the work of Joe Swanberg. However, Tatum and Thomas write a comedy that is far broader in its use of humor. Much of the first act sets up the awkward comedy and visual gags that will come later. While it takes a little too long to get to its point, the use of genuinely funny and weird jokes keeps The Civil Dead entertaining. The jokes set up during the first act even come back to pay dividends later.

Working to its advantage, Tatum willingly puts himself in the space to deliver the physical comedy. There’s something about the way this version of Clay moves through life that is inherently funny. His posture on a longboard conveys the lack of effort he puts into life, only to immediately use the longboard to scale a fence. The physical comedy of these shots, back-to-back, allows Tatum to display a natural talent for finding the small moments. This later helps the back-and-forth jokes from each character land even more effectively.

Tatum and Thomas also prove an adept knowledge of horror tropes that can make for fun gags. Without stepping outside of The Civil Dead‘s hipster styling, the screenwriting duo establishes a series of “ghost rules.” In doing so, they set up genuinely creepy shot sequences, as well as hilarious comedic moments. One bit involving a car lands an especially funny comedic moment before we dive into the final act. Another joke uses a costume choice and pop culture familiarity to deliver big laughs. The Civil Dead‘s world-building unfolds quite naturally. It also helps kick off important narrative drops and introduces intriguing philosophical questions.

The Civil Dead 2023 Clay Tatum Whitmer Thomas

The only aspect of The Civil Dead that struggles is the subject of loneliness. There are certain aspects of the story, particularly surrounding Thomas’ character, where this works. However, the ideas could have stretched to others in the story more effectively. These moments fall flat when other characters express their fears of being alone. This undermines what might have been a strong exploration of these issues.

There’s a slightly tighter story in The Civil Dead, which could get us into the funnier aspects of the movie earlier. However, on the whole, it makes for quite an enjoyable experience. Both Tatum and Whitmer keep the humor directed at themselves, showing they make for a fun comedic team. Their ability to land visual and verbal humor is wildly underrated. Fingers crossed their next collaboration comes sooner rather than later.

Alan’s Rating: 7/10

What do you think of The Civil Dead? Let us know in the comments below.

The Civil Dead is rolling out in Alamo Drafthouse theaters on February 3rd, 2023. Some screenings will feature live Q&As from Clay Tatum and Whitmer Thomas. Full info and dates are available HERE.

The Civil Dead releases on VOD on February 17th, 2023.

Please check out other Sunshine State Cineplex reviews here!

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