Directed by musician Tim Rutili, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers is an endearing, intermittently amusing first film. Girl, Interrupted and May actress Angela Bettis stars as Zel, a thirty-something fortune teller who lives in a haunted house.
In place of unavenged murder victims or malevolent poltergeists, Zel is haunted by indie rockers, and Rutili’s band Califone spends a good deal of time onscreen, sporting beyond-the-grave all-white togs and faraway looks. There are also a number of other ghosts in the house, each with their own story (and all-white outfit). We are meant to believe that they hail from different times and different places, though Zel’s ghost family mostly resemble the bickering members of a post-mortem college radio station, especially when they engage in Mumblecore-style exchanges about whether or not heaven is a state of perpetual orgasm.
Rutili is preoccupied with superstition, and the director intersperses the drama with title cards displaying a variety of superstitious nostrums, some with more bearing on the plot than others. As the drama of the film ramps up, the ghosts that inhabit Zel’s house (and abet her career as a psychic by endowing her with supernatural powers) become restless. They are all drawn to a mysterious light that appears in the backyard; when an unseen force prevents them from walking towards it, they accuse Zel of selfishly imprisoning them. Angry, cacophonous music ensues, courtesy of the undead house band.
Though the technical shortcomings of Rutili’s effort are not indictable in and of themselves, the uneven nature of the cinematography, paralleled by Bettis’ uneven performance, makes …Funeral Singers hard going at times. Califone’s unexplained presence, while vital to the film’s existence, becomes rapidly distracting. It’s also perplexing to watch a movie about a house full of ghosts that never once tries for a scare. Despite its rough edges, however, the central core of Rutili’s movie — a sort of indie rock Beetlejuice — bodes well for the fledgling director’s future.