Falling in love is easy, but romance can be a killer in John Ruane’s hilarious dark comedy Death in Brunswick. Sam Neill plays a hapless layabout living off his mother’s goodwill when he takes a job as a cook only to fall in love with the beautiful barmaid. Problem is she's the boss' girl and a series of unfortunate accidents and situations are about to keep him from true bliss. On Blu-ray from Umbrella and OCN, the disc sports a solid transfer, sounds great, and there are some awesome bonus features to pick through. Recommended
Dark comedies are a tough sell. It’s already difficult to make a genuinely funny film but it’s harder when there’s a dark edge that an audience might not find funny. Like murder. Sam Neill may not be known for comedy, but he excels at playing intense and flustered characters under stress. With a slick direction from John Ruane and a crackling script based on the novel by Boyd Oxlade, Death in Brunswick proves to be a deadly funny film!
Hapless forty-something layabout Carl (Sam Neill) doesn’t exactly have many prospects. More often than not he’s living off the exasperated goodwill (and modest fortune) of his mother (Yvonne Lawley). Things start looking up when he takes a job as a nightclub cook and meets the young and beautiful Greek immigrant Sophie (Zoe Carides). The two soon fall for each other and just when everything is looking up for Carl, it all starts to go terribly wrong. It turns out Sophie is actually the boss’ fiance - whether she likes it or not. Trying to make the best of the situation, a series of unfortunate but beneficial accidents happen, and Carl needs his best friend and gravedigger Dave (John Clarke) to help.
I’ve seen Death in Brunswick a few times over the last three decades and it's still ad damned funny show. Sam Neill is well known for his horror chops with flicks like Possession, The Final Conflict: The Omen III, and of course his several turns fighting deadly dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park franchise. He’s also great at playing stressed-out and wildly in-over-his-head characters. As Carl Fitzgerald, he certainly gets to play up his darker side but also that hyper-stressed individual. The film’s comedy doesn’t come from gags or punchlines, but from the extreme situations that develop and how Carl goes about fixing things. Or at least trying to fix things and failing miserably.
Zoe Carides’ Sophie is a lovely counterpoint to this and the pair share a fun chemistry. She’s feisty and sultry but isn’t there just to be fought over. John Clarke is a genuine hoot as Dave who is always trying to do the right thing and help, even if his wife would like him to do otherwise. His solution for Carl’s myriad of issues is quite something. And then we have Yvonne Lawley as Carl’s domineering and judgemental mother. Like I said I’d seen this film before but this was the first time I realized how much in common it has with Peter Jackson’s Braindead (Dead Alive). Obviously, there aren’t any zombies but a number of the character dynamics hold steady.
On top of managing the tone of the film's darker hilarious themes, I also have to give kudos to director John Ruane for crafting a love scene that’s actually funny. That first time between lovers can be so messy and awkward that you don’t know if it’s going to end in satisfaction or complete shameful embarrassment. Because their scene is so funny and weird it makes their characters' lasting chemistry all the more endearing. Ruane also doesn’t let the action lag. Once problems start to stack, they stack exponentially driving the understated and uncomfortable hilarity throughout the whole film. Most of the laughs aren’t the gut-aching belly laugh variety, but the film has one great laugh or thematic punchline after another right to the final shot before fading away to the credits.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Arriving on Blu-ray, Death in Brunswick carves up a new home video release from Umbrella Entertainment and OCN Distribution. Pressed on a Region Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a clear case with reversible insert artwork. If you order from Vinegar Syndrome directly you can pick up a slick exclusive slipcover. The disc loads to a standard main menu with traditional navigation options.
I’m not sure of the vintage of the transfer for this release of Death in Brunswick, nothing in the artwork indicates if it’s a recent scan or not. Regardless this is a pretty solid presentation. Not perfect mind you, black levels are a little iffy in places and some colors could use a little more life, but when it works it’s a beauty. Details are generally sharp and clear with a healthy cinematic grain structure to follow. Colors are overall solid with healthy primaries and skin tones. There are a few sequences in Carl’s apartment or at the club where it felt like the image looked a little washed out with borderline crushed blacks, both those moments are relatively few. Most of the time this is a pretty great-looking transfer that serves the film’s needs nicely.
On the audio front, Death in Brunswick arrives with two options, a DTS-HD MA 2.0 or a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. Both are excellent tracks. Overall I liked the full 5.1 mix better, especially for any of the crowded club scenes or some of the more action-focused sections of the film. But that 2.0 mix plays well on its own without leaving anything behind. Dialog is clean and clear for both tracks without any issues for levels or volume shifts. Scoring is on point and accentuates the various happenings in the film nicely without overcrowding the soundscape.
Where this set really wins the hour is with a fully packed assortment of bonus features. Leading the pack are two great audio commentaries. The first commentary features Sam Neill and John Clarke with the second headlined by director John Ruane and cinematographer Ellery Ryan. After that, we get a new Q&A session along with some interesting archival interviews and promotional materials.
Good dark comedies are a rare breed. Some are just too zany. Some are just not funny and too dark. To get that perfect pitch-black blend is a tricky task but John Ruane pulled it off with Death in Brunswick. Between the story and the great cast headlined by Sam Neill, the film is a hoot and tickles the dark edgy funny bone. The new Blu-ray from Umbrella and OCN Distribution stacks up a solid video transfer, two great audio options, and hours of great bonus features to dig through. If you need a damn fun flick with a grim humorous edge, give this one a whirl. Recommended