Helen’s Dead, 2023.
Directed by K. Asher Levin.
Starring Emile Hirsch, Tyrese Gibson, Oliver Cooper, Matilda Lutz, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Dylan Gelula, Beth Dover, and Brian Huskey.
A young woman discovers that her boyfriend is sleeping with her cousin Helen and goes to confront them at a dinner party, only to find out that Helen is dead and everybody is a suspect.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, Helen’s Dead wouldn’t exist.
The tonally confused Helen’s Dead begins in medias res, complete with some woeful acting (it feels as if every scene was shot in one take and moved on from with no concern of how it came out) from a house party of suspects shocked and pronouncing the titular character dead. It’s a choice seemingly only made because the actual reveal doesn’t come until nearly halfway into the movie, meaning that one sits there for 40 minutes of mundane, excessive exposition, also bogged down by black-and-white flashbacks that invade the storytelling at questionable moments (including a climactic bit, all to reveal information that doesn’t necessarily matter.)
Directed by K. Asher Levin (co-writing alongside Amy Brown Carver), there is also no confidence in trusting the whodunit mystery aspect, awkwardly transitioning the story into something resembling a home invasion survival thriller. The point is that these filmmakers seem partially aware that there isn’t much remotely exciting or intelligent going on with the finger-pointing over the murder (if anything, the writing adheres to the most overused clichés when it comes to predicting who is responsible for the death), overcompensating with failed attempts at suspense that not only belong in a different movie entirely but are then punctuated by out of place comedic beats. In the ending scene, there is a sense that no one in front of or behind the camera had a sense of what kind of film was being made here.
Given the exhausting amounts of character backstory, there is no shortage of suspects, with the script first introducing Adam (Emile Hirsch, giving a boisterous, over-the-top performance) tearing into his girlfriend Addie (Dylan Gelula, delivering one of the only passable turns here.) He lobs ugly comments about her lifestyle choices, career ambition, and weight (yes, you read that correctly) before running off to a public bathroom to text her best friend/cousin Helen (Matilda Lutz) that he wants to be with her and is breaking up with Addie. Adam can’t even do that right, as he accidentally sent those texts to Addie, setting off feelings of betrayal from her boyfriend and cousin.
Meanwhile, Annabelle Dexter-Jones’ lifestyle influencer Leila, also Addie and Helen’s sister, is preparing for a party alongside her obnoxious husband George (Brian Huskey), expressing frustration with him that he has yet to fix the Wi-Fi, which is also an absurdly lazy and convenient way to sever off assistance and help for these characters once Helen’s dead body turns up. The party’s purpose is to hopefully get her social media influence back on track with an interview from Beth Dover’s Molly. Naturally, all of these characters show up to the party, some unannounced, including a community theater guest named Garrett (Oliver Cooper), who claims that Helen (hiding away in a room upstairs since her parents are concerned she will embarrass them) is romantically interested. Tyrese Gibson also enters the scene as a burglar with connections to Helen.
Aside from dragging itself across scenes repeating established character details, there also isn’t much fun to be found playing along with this mystery. Most performances here are cranked up to a highly annoying level and unconvincing, whereas the baffling search for humor during the third act and ending falls flat. Helen’s Dead is dead on arrival, and there’s no reason to care about who else lives and dies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com