The Death of Dick Long is not an easy film to love. By virtue both of subject matter and execution, it is a difficult film to watch, and more so to enjoy. I can’t blame anyone who might run away from the film in dismay; it is, delicately, not a film for everyone.
Which is to be expected from director Daniel Scheinert, who’s best known as one half of the directorial team behind the surprise hit, Swiss Army Man. That film, you might recall, centered around a corpse who talked and farted. As a director, Scheinert leans into the absurd. So it is with The Death of Dick Long. While it might be more quietly absurd than the overt absurdity of emotionally connecting with a flatulent corpse, the weird is never far below the surface and soon becomes an ominous presence that looms menacingly at the forefront.
Writer Billy Chew’s script is remarkable, especially considering it’s his first effort, and works well with Scheinert’s absurdist tendencies. He’s crafted here a sort of cringe comedy Blood Simple, channeling the Coen Brothers into a wild comedy of errors that builds into an explosive, horrific reveal that’s almost impossible to bounce back from. And yet Chew does, never losing the underlying sense of humanity that guides his characters through this wild and bizarre tale.
When first we meet the titular Dick Long (played by Scheinert), he and his friends Zeke and Earl (Michael Abbott Jr. and Andre Hyland) are banging out poorly played renditions of Nickleback songs in Zeke’s garage. When next we meet him, he is laying in the back seat of Zeke’s car, moaning and bleeding profusely as his friends drive him frantically to the hospital, where they drop him off in the driveway and quickly run away. Unfortunately for Zeke and Earl, Dick soon dies and leaves them frantically trying to cover up whatever it was that happened and whatever their involvement might be.
Much of the first hour plays out like your typical comedic cringe fest as Zeke and Earl try to cover their tracks and end suspicion that might soon shine on them. There’s an incredible tension in their idiocy as their desperation leads them down an increasingly winding path of bad decisions and terrible choices. Those who suffer easily from second-hand embarrassment will be more than uncomfortable as their misadventures play out. This is suspense by way of cringe and Chew & Scheinert do a masterful job at playing their cards in such a way that keeps the audience engaged no matter how uncomfortable their anxiety might be.
Abbott and Hyland, meanwhile, craft lovingly memorable characters that are endearing in their buffoonery. They are the kind of guys who never quite got over the year 2000. They talk about Papa Roach; Earl’s ringtone is Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness.” They are, simply, the kind of guys who play “How You Remind Me” in their garage with their buddy and call it band practice. And yet they both play their roles so straight that it’s difficult to judge them. They are completely earnest in their trashiness; that’s just who Zeke and Earl are. They’re the guys you might see in any small American town who just never learned that things exist outside of their insular little world.
This all barrels towards a reveal that’s…just…man. One of Dick’s only lines in the film is, “Y’all motherfuckers wanna get weird?” and let’s just say that, well, things get fucking weird. Horrifically so. Irredeemably so. Anyone who might’ve been on the fence up to this point will no doubt check out, leave the theater, and ask for their money back. I can’t really blame them. What Scheinert and Chew ask of the audience is a lot. A whole lot.
Again, it’s hard to bounce back from. Yet, somehow, Scheinert and Chew, as well as Abbott and Hyland, manage to pull some deeply humanizing moments out of what remains of the film and spin it into something of a moving parable about the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves as well as the lies we tell others to protect ourselves. While I doubt anyone can relate directly to the exact experiences of Zeke and Earl—I really, truly, and sincerely fucking hope not—in an abstract, absurd, and extremely hyperbolic way they become something like everyman avatars for our darkest secrets and deepest shadows.
But that’s only if you can manage it. Many won’t be able to. And I don’t blame them a single bit. There’s an extreme darkness permeating this movie that will affect all who see it and the unprepared or unwilling won’t be persuaded by anything. Absolutely, that’s a valid response to The Death of Dick Long. Those who can manage it, however, are treated to a deeply affecting cringe comedy masterpiece that will leave you alternately stunned, horrified, and, yes, laughing your ass off.
The Death of Dick Long is now playing in select theaters.