Director – Justin Steele, Screenplay – Alecc Bracero & Justin Steele, Producer – Ross Otterman, Photography – Akis Konstantakpopulos, Music – Keith Waggoner, Visual Effects Supervisor – Sam Kryszek, Special Effects Supervisors – Justin Apone & Minh-Triet Anthony Nguyen, Makeup Effects – Krysten Clark & Kristy Horiuchi, Production Design – Isabelle Alford-Lago. Production Company – Aji Productions.
Brad Dourif (Stanley), Jeremy Sumpter (Jarod Leary), Debbon Ayer (Martha Leary), Scott Leroy Elrod (Detective Matt Fairchild), Sam Ingraffia (Rick Waters), Kate Maher (Lindsey Weaver), Daniel Baldwin (Bill Weaver), Madison Eginton (Courtney Taylor), Blake Hood (David Valentine), Staci Keanan (Becky Weaver)
In school, Jarod Leary is bullied because he dresses in black and paints his fingernails. Lindsey Weaver comes and says she likes him, kissing him before revealing that she is playing a taunting prank. That night, the Weaver family go to Stanley Crematorium to arrange a service for a family member. As they walk out in disagreement over pricing, Lindsey calls the owner Stan “a faggot.” Later, Stan goes to Lindsey’s workplace, knocks her out in the alley and then kills her. Jarod’s mother demands he get a job and so he insists that Stan take him on. After starting, Jarod becomes adamant that Stan gives him the keys to the basement despite Stan’s reluctance to do so. There he discovers the preserved ashes of all the bodies that Stan has killed, including Lindsey’s. After Jarod is beaten by Lindsey’s boyfriend David, demanding to know what he did with her, Jarod tells Stan what happened and so Stan goes and kills David. A relationship grows between Stan and Jarod but Jarod then decides he wants to start imitating Stan’s killings.
This low-budget psycho film is a directorial debut for Justin Steele. Though the film’s budget is clearly evident, Steele has managed to get together a modest name cast, including veteran horror movie psycho Brad Dourif. Dourif is paired alongside Jeremy Sumpter, the now grown-up kid who played the title role in the live-action Peter Pan (2003) a few years ago but then largely vanished since. Also present in a minor role (all of two scenes) is Daniel Baldwin as the father of the bitchy teenage girl who is killed by Dourif.
Justin Steele is clearly trying to do something different. This is clear a few minutes in where we get a scene of a school taunting/bullying of Jeremy Sumpter, which is intercut with scenes as Brad Dourif abducts a woman, dumps her in the middle of nowhere, beats her with a baseball bat and then (it is implied) backs up and runs her over with his car.
It must be said though that Death and Cremation never quite holds up to its promise. Justin Steele has clearly intended to make a more character driven psycho film about the potentially interesting story of a seasoned serial killer and a young guy who becomes his apprentice. In practice however, this means that most of the film is just observed character interaction, which simply ends up being much too uneventful. What we don’t get is more of what we see in the first few minutes – the canned set-pieces of despatch that we usually do throughout most other psycho films. The serial killer and his apprentice story was done to perfection around this same time by Jennifer Lynch in Chained (2012).
Brad Dourif is well used to this kind of role and holds up his end with a consummate professionalism even when the material around him is not quite up to par. The surprise of the show is Jeremy Sumpter who emerges promisingly as an adult actor to give a nicely brooding and moody performance. The only real lack of credibility is why someone so clearly good looking would be bullied at school and have girls taunting him with come-ons rather than dealing with real ones. The result is a film that has a clear ambition to be more than a standard psycho movie but just never manages to quite come together around the otherwise applaudable performances.