I binged all 8 episodes of Graham Reznick’s excellent new Shudder series Deadwax yesterday. Much like his music, Reznick’s new series works on several levels and reveals a bit more about itself as you go along. In the same respect, I think there are elements you shouldn’t try to understand. At times you need to just take what you’re seeing on the screen(or hearing in the soundtrack) and just let yourself take in the weird and psychedelic nature of it all. His records have a dizzying effect, with sounds buzzing from left to right and wavering over your head, giving you the feeling that you’re wavering between two planes.
Deadwax works that way, too.
It’s a simple concept of a story: A woman named Etta(played by Hannah Gross) tracks down super rare vinyl records for people looking for said records. She’s very good at what she does, but sometimes gets the records by less than legitimate means. She mainly works alone, but sometimes gets help from her partner Lana(played by Tracy Perez) and vinyl/electronics guru and mentor Ian Ullman(played by Ted Raimi.) Besides being a finder of vinyl, Etta is a collector herself. She is as obsessed with the records as her clients. Etta is hired to find the extremely rare “Lytton Lacquer”, a vinyl album that is more than just a rare record. It contains something otherworldly in the grooves. What follows in the 8 relatively short episodes is a hallucinatory journey into obsession, ritual, and hi-fidelity weird.
So what’s Deadwax like? Well, if you took David Lynch, Raymond Chandler, an audiophile Reddit page, and downed some Robitussin you might get close to what’s happening on this show. The story is simple enough to follow along with, which gives Reznick license to get weird and ethereal with the visuals and the myth behind the Lytton Lacquer. Etta Pryce is our Philip Marlowe, and the lacquer is the mystery we’re trying to figure out. There’s lots of talk about perfect frequencies and being perfectly in tune with the world around us, but its all done with occult-ish tone and bizarro zeal that makes the experience an absolute joy.
What I loved about this show is how it’s grounded in the old school world of detective stories and noir, while still feeling untethered from the typical tale of mystery and the procedural. Graham Reznick writes characters that react to the otherworldly in a realistic way, while still giving us personalities we can sink our teeth into. Hannah Gross’ Etta Pryce is monotone throughout the show, but in just a single glance at her phone checking a message from her girlfriend you know so much about this character: a sense she can’t commit to a relationship even if she wants to. Her obsession with records and the thrill of the hunt is more powerful than a need for stability. Etta is the unstable center of this bizarre universe, and the weird and hallucinatory happenings are emanating from her and her obsession.
I see elements of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks, The Night Stalker, and even bits of Rian Johnson’s Brick in Deadwax. There’s lots of classic pulp goodness here as well, with Jim Thompson vibes in the “who can you trust?” feel of these bigger than life characters Etta comes along.
There’s also plenty to dig into on the soundtrack. Each episode premieres new music from artists like Thomas Ragsdale, Pye Corner Audio, Alessandro Cortini, Timothy Fife, Deadly Avenger, Burning Tapes, Pentagram Home Video, All of Them Witches, and of course Graham Reznick. The songs work their way into the story like characters emerging from the shadows.
The attention to detail in the audio equipment is another delight of Deadwax. I mean, at the heart of the show is obsession. Anyone who’s ever collected something obsessively, be it vinyl, baseball cards, toys, comic books, or really anything, will tell you that attention to detail is everything. From the McIntosh preamps to the Ortofon Blue cartridge to that whole hi definition system in the opening shot of Deadwax, the camera breezes across these items as if they were sitting in a glass box at the Smithsonian. Any audio head will delight in this. And Reznick’s sound design is a character unto itself. From the crackle of the plastic covering the vinyl records, to the drop of the needle on wax, to the weird beetles eating flesh from bone, the sounds pop and sizzle giving you many aural delights.
Deadwax is a show for those that enjoy storytelling and visuals that are outside of the box. Reznick pulls inspiration from the classic noir tale, but repurposes into something strange, bizarre, and fantastical. It’s hallucinatory, dizzying, and an absolute joy to get lost in for a couple hours.
Graham Reznick’s Deadwax is an absolute delight of the senses and the weird.