Diagnosis: Death, 2009.
Directed by Jason Stutter.
Starring Raybon Kan, Jessica Grace Smith, Suze Tye and Rhys Darby.
Locked in a medical facility over a weekend as guinea pigs for a drug trial, two cancer patients discover that the clinic may pose more harm than good.
Diagnosis: Death is a low-budget horror comedy from New Zealand and features the trio of stars from Flight of the Conchords – Bret McKenzie, Jermaine Clement, and Rhys Darby – albeit in supporting roles. The film’s tone is similar to that of Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s early efforts such as Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992), and features visual effects from Jackson regular and Academy Award winner Christian Rivers, who is set to make his directorial debut in the upcoming remake of The Dambusters.
Having previously worked with director Jason Stutter in the 2002 comedy Tongan Ninja, Raybon Kan stars as English teacher Andre Chang (in addition to writing and producing), who is given the unfortunate news that he is suffering from a rare and incurable cancer. With a maximum of twelve weeks left to live (or possibly six, but any longer than twelve and his doctor will offer a refund), Andre’s only hope is to attend a drugs trial for a radical new treatment, where he meets fellow patient Juliet (newcomer Jessica Grace Smith), a teenage girl also looking to find a miracle cure for her illness.
The couple are introduced to the cold and authoritarian Nurse Bates (Suze Tye), who informs them that the drug may induce possible side effects including paranoia and hallucinations. With the trial underway, Andre and Juliet begin to witness strange happenings around the clinic before learning from Dr. Cruise (McKenzie) that the centre used to be a mental institute. Not only that, but the very mental institute where Juliet’s favourite author happened to murder her child before committing suicide. At first they believe the visions to be caused by the drugs, but as the weird events continue they come to suspect that the hospital may actually be hiding a dark secret and set about to unravel the mystery.
Although Diagnosis: Death is billed as a spoof there is a genuine mystery to explore, and the film also examines the developing relationship between Andre and Juliet in the face of their own mortality. As both writer and star, Kan is comfortable delivering the material and his humour is very natural and subtle, while Bret McKenzie also provides a number of laughs in his role as Dr. Cruise, particularly during the scene where he administers a suppository to Andre. Although this Flight of the Conchords association is bound to be the main selling point of the movie, fans of the show may be a little disappointed by their lack of screen time, with Clement’s role in particular very limited. However it should hopefully allow the film to reach a wider audience, which it certainly deserves.
Diagnosis Death is released on DVD on 3rd August 2009. View the trailer here.