Diagnosis: Death (2010)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Jason Stutter
Writers Raybon Kan, Jason Stutter
Starring Raybon Kan, Jessica Grave Smith, Suze Tye, Bret McKenzie
Genre Revenant
Tagline Perscription: Well nothing, you're dead
15 second cap Andre and Juliet face cancer and revenants in gothic hospital terror


"If you can imagine a satanic torture where death is the only release." - Specialist

Andre Chang is a school teacher who is not above taking bribes to change student grades and who also has a sideline in sleaze. It's discovered that he has cancer of the arse variety, his Specialist informs him he has three months, well six weeks, to live, though there is a drug trial where in return for being a guinea pig he might just prolong his life. Juliet is a high school student with a fixation on writer Charlotte Mansfield, who also decides to take up the drug trial due to be diagnosed with life threatening cancer. There may or may not be a supernatural cause for Andre and Juliet's cancer.

The drug trial is being conducted in a locked down hospital administrated by the threatening Nurse Bates and the absent minded Doctor Cruise. Participants are warned that if they receive the drug rather than the control placebo then they may experience hallucinations. Both Andre and Juliet start to see and hear strange things in the hospital, are they hallucinating or is something from the other side trying to make contact through them?

Diagnosis Death is the latest in a long list of Kiwi horror/comedies that are in the main successful at what they try to do, if you like subdued humour and the odd chill thrown in for good measure. New Zealand has stamped it's own special brand on this hard to get right sub-genre and you are either going to lap it up or really not get the generally subtle approach to the material. Either way I don't care as I rather enjoy the Kiwi approach, and my enjoyment is paramount! Before going further I should point out to Flight of the Concords fans that the marketing of Diagnosis: Death as a FOTC movie is a bit of a stretch in all reality. While Bret has a fairly sizeable role, and nails it, Rhys Darby appears in exactly two scenes playing Rhys Darby, and Jemaine gets a cameo in a scene toward the beginning of the flick. Hardly FOTC dominated, with comedian Raybon Kan holding down the fort alongside thespians Jessica Grave Smith and Suze Tye.

Kiwis are not noted as the passionless people for nothing, and this concept comes across in their comedy. Diagnosis: Death is fill of one liners, situational comedy, (bum POV during a suppository), and the sort of sly humour that will bring a smile to your face if you give it a chance. Don't expect Boredwood style slapstick or comedic situations so forced that you wonder whether a barrel fill of monkeys wrote the scenes in poo. The movie requires the audience to look and listen, as the next funny scene isn't going to be neon sign posted for the lowest common denominator. Yes I know terrible isn't it, Director Jason Stutter respects his audience and treats them as intelligent. The huge advantage of this approach is that you can either take or leave the humour depending on your motion picture requirements. I was quite happy to grin along to the sight gags and one liners, but on any other day could have simply dialled into an excellent ghost story. So feel free to either groove with the inherent humour in the plot or put it on the back-burner, Director Stutter isn't making any requirements for your viewing pleasure.

Of course this being a ghost story writers Raybon Kan and Jason Stutter have their haunted hospital on and show they understand exactly what it is about things that go bump in the night that attract punters. In a move that certainly caught me by surprise we are immersed in the mystery of troubled writer Charlotte Mansfield's apparent suicide and the death of her son, that apparently went down at the very hospital that Andre and Juliet are currently guinea pigging out at. Clearly Charlotte is a reference to an actual Kiwi writer of some renown, hence my surprise at the Writers risking a possible backlash from Katherine Mansfield scholars. Kan and Stutter know exactly why ghost fans dial into their favourite sub-genre, it's all in the mystery and piecing together why the haunting is going down. The Writers provide us with an acceptable plot in this regard as the viewer is gradually dragged to the truth about what did happen to Charlotte and her son. Maybe a slightly too twee answer there, and the revenant enacts it's revenge pretty simply considering previous efforts have apparently been avoided.

Director Jason Stutter shows he hasn't been wasting time in the j-horror section of his local DVD library and hits the chill factor effectively, though with more than a passing nod to Ju-On (The Grudge, 2002) and perhaps Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water, 2002). We get a creepy kid making sudden appearances, the requisite long haired female ghost, oh and water and glass plays a huge role as things gradually go from half glimpsed phantoms from the corner of the eye to full on haunting. Stutter manages to hit the chill factor on more than one occasion leaving the viewer to wonder exactly what he could achieve with a full on horror flick sans the comedic elements. They should have got Jason Stutter to sort out the remake of The Amityville Horror, he might have completely avoided the total mess that movie ended up becoming.

The visual effects are solid enough, though strangely we get some Peter Jackson circa The Frighteners (1996) skeletons going down for no apparent reason. We could have certain lost the skeletons, including the all together bizarre scene of two of them going at it doggy style. I mean that was just plain weird, though I guess it was an attempt to by pass anything approaching exploitation or something. Anyways beside the skeleton remains, the CGI etc is working pretty effectively as live actors are used effectively and the CGI is kept to a minimum. I was pretty much pleased with this aspect of the movie and applaud Jason Stutter for not relying on computers and the like to hit the horror high notes.

There's the odd moment in the film where you may be left wondering if it makes any sense at all. While our resident ghosts are adamant that Andre and Juliet work out the true story via ghostly recreations, this actual doesn't help out when the whip comes down and there's revenge in the air. Why exactly did the ghosts need either of our dynamic duo? How many hospitals are situated right next graveyards? Is this a Kiwi thing?

I had a lot of fun with Diagnosis: Death, as previously stated always up for a good ghost story, and grooved to it's light touch on the comedy and horror fronts. Strangely my DVD copy of the movie kept jumping over the first 15 minutes till this morning when it suddenly started working, which explained a bunch of things I had previously been confused with in the plot. Word of advice here is you are going to need to watch the whole movie. Full recommendation to readers who like their horror on the more light side of the haunting, and especially those able to rock to very subtle humour. No you don't need to be a kiwi to dance to the beat here, scare yourself up a copy of how horror should be done.

If after additional details, then browse on over to NZ Videos who once again with their Diagnosis Death coverage prove why they are the best source for New Zealand movie information on the net. I tend to check the site once a month to find out what's coming my way dark genre wise.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Solid ghost story with some subtle comedic overtones.