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Jessi Gotta’s Anniversary Dinner Is A Zombie Movie I Can Finally Get Behind

Main Cast: Jessi Gotta and Brian Silliman

Director: Jessi Gotta

ANNIVERSARYDINNER_poster2015copyAs a long-time writer of short stories, I have to respect the hell out of what writer/director/actress Jessi Gotta does. Of the four films she’s made, two are shorts around 12 minutes long, which means she’s taking short story ideas and, instead of overdeveloping them into unnecessarily long and convoluted movies, she’s filming the short story idea and nothing more. That’s a skill set I wish I had, because I’ve written a friggin’ ton of short stories.

But back to Gotta. Her second film, Anniversary Dinner, focuses on one of the most obvious questions in the zombie subgenre (most obvious and most seldom asked): what if you can’t let go? You’ve got parents, a spouse, kids, who don’t make it, but are relatively unharmed–aside from being dead. When they come back, what do you do?

Suppose there’s a number to call and the government will come and take your recently returned undead loved one away somewhere and deal with them there, leaving you safe and secure. Do you call it? A single parent, a childless husband, an only child still living at home. You’d be all alone.

What if you’re Frederick, and your wife Leigh is one of the undead, but it’s just the two of you and you have a spare room in your apartment where you can keep her locked away? Would you? Or would you call the number and let “them” take her away?

This is the premise of Anniversary Dinner and, although only 12 minutes long, the impact is strong and moving.

When it comes to moviemaking, I think Gotta is doing so many things right. Her stories are fun, the kind of stories I like writing and the kind I like reading. Her love of the horror genre is unapologetic and that earns nothing but respect from a lifetime horror junkie like me.

And in the four movies I’ve seen from her, not a second of any one of them feels like filler. Her endings are just as strong as any part of her movies. She never skimps on tension or suspense, and she doesn’t rely on jump scares to keep the audience awake.

Also, sometimes when a writer/director inserts themselves into one of their movies, it feels like ego at play. When Gotta appears in her movies, it just feels natural. She is, after all, an accomplished stage actress, having appeared onstage in “A Christmas Carol”, “As You Like It”, “Hamlet” and nearly two dozen others.

I’ve been watching Jessi Gotta films as long as she’s been releasing them, and I hope to be able to continue doing so. These films may be small on budget, but what appears onscreen overcomes that constraint like it was nothing, and instead of watching a low-budget short, when it comes to things like Anniversary Dinner, it’s never even a question, and instead it’s just 12 minutes of moving drama and gut-wrenching horror, a one-two punch in the gut, and before you have a chance to start checking your watch or playing with your phone, she’s out. I dig it.