'The Death Of Dick Long' Review: This Dark, Disturbing Southern Comedy Is One Of The Year's Funniest Films [Sundance]

Pink Freud, the fictional band in The Death of Dick Long, consists of Dick, Zeke, and Earl – three Alabama rednecks who stumble their way through covers of songs like Staind's 2001 hit "It's Been Awhile." One night after band practice, Dick poses a fateful question to his pals: "Ya'll motherf***ers wanna get weird?"

After a late-night montage of shotgunning beers, blasting cans with shotguns, and launching fireworks from between their legs, there's a hard cut to a few hours later, when Dick has been horrifically injured. Zeke and Earl drop him off outside the emergency room, but it's not long before they learn Dick didn't make it – and the audience spends the first hour of the movie wondering exactly how he died as the survivors dig themselves bigger and bigger holes with their ill-conceived lies to cover up the events of the previous night. When the reason for Dick's fate finally arrives, the movie takes a turn away from its comedic roots and becomes a more disturbing, melancholy exploration of masculinity.

For its side-splitting first hour, director Daniel Scheinert's movie is a comedy of errors as Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland) bluff their way through a series of escalating incidents. There's blood in the back seat of Zeke's car, which his daughter gets all over her clothes when he takes her to school. He and Earl can't clean the stains out, so they decide to ditch the car – but instead of actually thinking it through, they push it halfway into a lake before realizing the water isn't deep enough to cover the whole vehicle. And that's just the start. All the while, a pair of local cops (Sarah Baker and Janelle Cochrane) investigate this weird series of events and poke holes in these idiots' story.

While this year's Troop Zero featured big name actors putting on over-the-top Southern accents, Dick Long takes a more authentic approach, both in its acting and its grounded visuals. Abbott excels playing a well-meaning doofus, and Hyland's hilarious Earl feels like he's modeled his life after a Danny McBride character and picked up that sense of undeserved arrogance and the sarcastic sense of humor. Baker is a standout as a fresh-faced cop who wanders into the case of a lifetime.

Scheinert, who also (briefly) plays Dick Long, is one half of DANIELS, the directing duo who made Swiss Army Man a couple of years ago. While his first solo effort here isn't nearly as complex as the lyrical, heartwarming movie about Daniel Radcliffe's farting corpse, Scheinert still has a lot to chew on with Billy Chew's layered screenplay. The soundtrack is full of wall-to-wall trash rock from the early 2000s (Earl's ringtone is "Down with the Sickness", and he and Zeke sing a Nickelback song at one point), but it's clear the filmmaker isn't interested in mocking his protagonists. When Zeke eventually makes so many mistakes that he backs himself into a corner and has to tell his suspicious wife (Virginia Newcomb) the truth about what happened to Dick, things go from hilarious to stomach-churning. But Scheinert uses the tonal shift as a way to transition into the movie's real message of acceptance.

I grew up in the South, where church steeples stab the skies and a quiet feeling of intolerance hangs in the air like the occasional Confederate flags that furrow in the wind. This movie is interested in that type of Southern culture – where many people behave one way in public and totally differently behind closed doors – while also speaking to larger truths about masculinity in general. The film never passes moral judgment on its characters, and in its own exceedingly messed up way, The Death of Dick Long wears its weird heart on its sleeve. Thoughtful, thorny, and riotously entertaining, this is one of the funniest movies of the year.

A24 has acquired The Death of Dick Long, and though it doesn't have an official release date yet.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10