The Death of Dick Long Review: A Surprising Madcap Whodunnit [Fantastic Fest 2019]

Swiss Army Man, directed by Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan, went on to become known, in shorthand, as the “farting corpse movie.” Granted, it’s much more than that, but that’s one heck of a hook, especially when that corpse is played by Daniel Radcliffe. Now, Scheinert is back and flying solo with his latest movie, The Death of Dick Long. While the hook for this one is entirely different, it’s safe to say that this truly shocking, totally wacky whodunnit will similarly be discussed with a few-word shorthand for years to come. That said, there’s a whole lot going on here and, not to overstate it, but this is one of the most surprising movies I’ve personally ever witnessed.

The Death of Dick Long centers on a couple of bandmates and longtime friends, Zeke (Michael Abbott, Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland). They, unfortunately, find themselves trying to cover up the death of their friend and bandmate, Dick, who died under mysterious circumstances. The duo doesn’t want anyone to find out how, and these simple, southern men must now try to cover their tracks, which is easier said than done. News of the death travels quickly through their small Alabama town, and their poorly covered tracks are only making matters worse. While authorities work to figure out the identity of the body, Zeke’s wife Lydia (Virginia Newcomb) and his daughter (Poppy Cunningham) become suspicious.

This is one of those movies that is best entered into without knowing all that much. There’s something of a twisted mystery at its center, the likes of which I’ve personally never seen before. It’s puzzling. It keeps the viewer guessing. It’s hopelessly engaging. Writer Billy Chew and director Daniel Scheinert decided to start with a truly screwy premise and build a fascinating, if remarkably uncomfortable, murder mystery around the whole thing. There are more than a few “what the f***” moments within. It’s hard to surprise people these days. I dare anyone to watch this movie and not be at least a little surprised, if not downright shocked.

That said, The Death of Dick Long is remarkably funny, even though the subject matter being dealt with is rather grim. Scheinert strikes a delicate balance. It would be so very easy for something like this to go off the rails, but the cast helps keep the whole thing together. Michael Abbott Jr. and Andre Hyland, in particular, have to play complex and layered characters, while also playing things close to the vest. Virginia Newcomb is also put in a situation as an actress that’s hard to even express without spoiling things, but she deserves an awful lot of credit.

Both in front of and behind the camera, this is a very respectful piece of cinema. Often times, movies set in the American south poke fun at the people who live there and stereotypes associated with them. Here, that’s not the case. Yes, it’s a representation of Southern living, but that is at the wrong end of very few gags. Instead, Scheinert uses the setting to this story’s advantage. It’s hard to imagine something as wild and outlandish working nearly as well in any other setting.

Ultimately, this is not a movie I can recommend outright to everyone as seen at Fantastic Fest. It’s not a mainstream movie. It’s uncomfortable. It deals with themes of repression and grief in truly unique ways that are difficult to express in words without giving it all away. That said, open-minded moviegoers looking for something rare and quite possibly in a class all of its own would do well to check this one out. The Death of Dick Long arrives in theaters on September 27 from A24.

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