Imagine if you woke up one morning and you found you had been poisoned and you had less than 24 hours to live. Would you roll over and die? Or would you do like the main character in Dead on Arrival and race to find out who murdered you before you expire? In Dead on Arrival, Billy Flynn (ESCAPE ROOM) plays drug salesman Sam Collins who, after signing a big contract and a night of partying, discovers he has been poisoned. With less than 24 hours to live, he decides to spend those hours searching for the person responsible and find out why. The investigation leads him through the underworld of Louisiana crossing paths with corrupt cops, gangsters, and even a voodoo priestess.
Dead on Arrival is an ensnaring noir thriller. The script that director Stephen C. Sepher has written kept the mystery around the true murderer a secret until the very end, something that doesn’t happen often even in the bigger budget thrillers. Setting the film in Louisiana adds a bit of spice to the story and the locale serves as a character of its own, from the swampland, to the mansion, to the town. The editing of the film stays fast-paced, so you have to pay attention or you may miss something. The soundtrack adds to the tension as the hour of death draws closer for Sam. Even with all the clues, they throw enough red herrings to keep you guessing until the very end.
Like in many noir-style films, our “hero” Sam is flawed. Early in the film he makes a few decisions that show he is not exactly a stand up guy. Flynn makes you feel his desperation and his regret for some of his life decisions. Along the way, Sam Collins gets help from the sympathetic stripper Jessie, played excellently by Christa B Allen. I found myself caring more about what happens to her character more than the main character. Sepher manages to give us a cast of interesting supporting characters. There is the southern charmer Hans Dunkel, a voodoo priestess Agrona, and a mob boss with his henchmen thrown in for good measure. The mobsters add to a number of the lighter moments in the film. I have to give a shout out to Lillo Brancato who plays Zanca. This character made me smile every time he appeared on screen. The humor helped balance the darker theme of the film and I think serves as a good distraction to the audience to make it more difficult to figure out the whodunit.
The only real issue I had with the film was the conclusion. It is not that it was badly written, but the build-up to the end left me wanting more than what was delivered.
Dead on Arrival has a little bit of everything for fans of noir and murder mysteries. I think the variety of characters and of the twists that are thrown at the audience will keep them interested in the story even if they find the characters difficult to relate to. I would recommend Dead on Arrival to anyone looking for some good Independent Cinema that isn’t horror related. Dead on Arrival is out on VOD and DVD now.