World War Z (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Gruesome shots of limbs getting severed, getting shot in the head point-blank, stabbings, slashings, and beheadings are dime a dozen in horror movies, certainly in zombie flicks, but for some reason one of the images that has stuck with me since seeing Bruce McDonald’s “Pontypool” is the way a virus-infected zombie continues to smash its face and body, seemingly insensitive to pain, onto a bulletproof glass in a desperate attempt to get through it only so it can infect more people. A few early shots of “World War Z,” loosely based on a novel by Max Brooks, reminded me of that image, the sheer insanity of the crazed undead bashing their skull through solid objects just so they can take a bite out of an uninfected.
Those looking for copious blood will be disappointed. While some of it is seen–drops can be observed on the face or stains on clothing–the usage of the dependable red goo is minimized. This is a welcome divergence from the norm because the material is forced to focus on increasing the ante for thrills and suspense. But to expect Marc Forster’s “World War Z” to share the same bloodline as Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later…” simply because of the fast-running zombies is a mistake. It takes a more globe-trotting approach which almost makes it a long lost cousin of Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion.”
What works well is the staging of mass panic and the way it is directed. The first big scene takes place in the busy streets of Philadelphia as Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), formerly an investigator for the United Nations, is driving his family (Mireille Enos, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove) to school and work. It starts off with a curiosity: news about somewhere far away, a radio announcement citing a rabies outbreak in Taiwan. Just as it ends, the outbreak is seen right outside the vehicle: people sprinting against traffic, cops in motorcycles driving to the source of the problem with hopes of containing it, and then the deafening terrorized screams.
When I was a kid, anthills would form in my family’s backyard, right next to a mango tree. Observing the hardworking tiny creatures from a good distance gets boring after a while so, as entertainment, I would pour water on and around the fire ants’ homes. Their sting was hell, but the few seconds of them scattering about seemed like magic to me. The number of ants that came out of a mound amazed me. In here, the overhead shots of panicked and confused people running all over the city reminded me of the poor ants I tortured. To this day, I still think that the image of quiescence turning into complete chaos all of a sudden is neat.
For a movie with millions of expensive CGI zombies, they get old real quick. While visually impressive when seeing them move as a group, especially during the intense action sequence in sun-soaked majesty of Jerusalem, I wanted to see more of the undead up and close and personal. I wanted to marvel at the levels of putrefaction, if they are missing body parts, if some of them are children or older folks. Sometimes less in more and there are moments, mostly in the middle, when I grew tired of seeing them swarm.
This is why I enjoyed the second half. After Gerry is contacted by his former employer to find the source of the outbreak so scientists can understand how the virus works–if the disease is indeed triggered by a virus–and make a vaccine, eventually he ends up in a medical facility… and with a theory. Instead of continuing to use weapons like grenades, pistols, and rifles to get from Point A to Point B, the film changes gears. It must then function on a different level of tension. It should be recognized that it is uncommon for horror-thrillers, especially commercial ones, to undergo–or even attempt–a change of pace. It is a risk because there is a possibility that drastic changes in mood or tone can alienate viewers.
What does not work completely is the way it ends: it feels too abrupt and yet the narration tries to explain it all. I felt that there is pressure on the film to remain to have a running time of just below two hours. It is a shame because it needed at least fifteen to twenty minutes more to deliver a smoother falling action and an ending that feels right for itself. I am fairly certain that there is a great movie inside “World War Z.” However, what is up on screen is only slightly above average–entertaining but not immersive.
★ / ★★★★
After I’ve seen zombies that can run like the wind à la “28 Days Later” or “28 Weeks Later,” slow-moving flesh eaters just don’t impress me anymore unless they’re being spoofed like in “Shaun of the Dead.” But I always try my best to put things into perspective because modern zombie pictures wouldn’t be the same today without the classics. A woman (Tisa Farrow) and a reporter (Ian McCulloch) decided to go on an island in the Caribbean to look for the woman’s father. Along the way, they met a couple (Al Cliver, Auretta Gay) on vacation who were kind enough to take them to the island of interest. But little did they know that the island was infested with the living dead. Although considered now as a classic, I believe “Zombie” was a mess. It talked about voodoo being the reason why the dead were rising from the grave but the word was not really explored nor did it touch upon its source. Voodoo has a variety of definitions depending on the culture–did this one involve dolls and pins? Furthermore, characters would ask something like, “What ARE those things rising from the grave?” in utter disgust. And someone would reply he didn’t know. However, after a few seconds the word “zombie” was thrown around like a football. That inconsistency in the script bothered me as much as the characters choosing to make one stupid decision after another. If the characters are as stupid (and as slow-moving) as the zombies, the fun is immediately taken out of the equation. Time and again the character would purposely run into an area where she knew there would be a dead end. I also hated the fact that characters would stand around and wait to be bitten. Horror movie directors should always ask themselves, “What would I do if I was in this particular character’s situation?” Thinking how we would respond and applying that instinct to the characters would not only make the characters more believable, we would be able to relate to them so much easier. If I saw a zombie a few feet away from me, I wouldn’t even think about trying to find the best weapon. Instinct would tell me to run as if I was in a 200 meter dash. And if I happen to run at a dead end and I had no choice but engage in combat, I would fight like I’ve never fought in my life. The last thing I would do was to stand around and say, “Oh, here I am. Bite me.” This was supposed to be a spiritual sequel to George Romero’s original 1978 “Dawn of the Dead.” “Zombie” or “Zombi 2” certainly wasn’t as intelligent or as ambitious as that film. Although I must say that the zombie versus shark scene was pretty neat. Oh, and I suppose I liked the soundtrack, too.
★★★ / ★★★★
It was year 2019 and vampires have taken over the world while humans were forced to hide because the creatures of the night hunted and used them for blood. Now faced with a shortage of blood because there were more vampires than humans, a hematologist (Ethan Hawke), a vampire who also sympathized with humans, aimed to create a blood substitute that could solve vampires’ problems. However, the leader (Sam Neill) of the company in which the hematologist worked for and the hematologist’s brother (Michael Dorman) himself had other plans. This movie had an interesting take on vampire movies because, like “28 Days Later” in terms of zombies, it related vampirism to a disease because it talked about having a cure. That scientific angle fascinated me, even though not 100% of it made sense in the end, and appreciated that it tried to do something new with the genre. Hawke did a great job as a man who, ten years being a vampire, hated what he had become because he did not want to become a vampire in the first place. I enjoyed his interactions with Claudia Karvan, as a human who led a resistance against vampires, and Willem Dafoe, as a vampire who accidentally turned human. The action sequences where exciting, thrilling and sometimes startling because it went in directions I did not expect. I just wished that the picture had a stronger last twenty minutes. It felt anticlimactic instead of urgent (especially if the fate of the planet boiled down to one showdown) and the abrupt ending left much to be desired. I was not quite certain whether it was setting itself up for a sequel or we were supposed to be hopeful for what would happen next. The ending needed a defined tone but it did not have a chance to reach a certain point because the filmmakers did not allow it to simmer. “Daybreakers,” written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, caught my attention and managed to keep it because it had grand and creative ideas about vampirism. It had its weak moments such as introducing a politician who was not explored in any way but it also had strong moments showing how far vampires would go to get food. Perhaps it took itself too seriously at times (it certainly would have benefited if it had taken some pages energy-wise from “Zombieland”) but I could not help but admire how dedicated it was with its new concepts.
★★ / ★★★★
A deadly virus ravages the world in Àlex Pastor and David Pastor’s thriller starring Chris Pine, Lou Taylor Pucci, Emily VanCamp and Piper Perabo. The four struggling survivors of the pandemic agreed to adhere to several rules that they thought would ensure or at least maximize their chances of survival. However, when they ran into a man (Christopher Meloni) and his infected daughter (Kiernan Shipka) in the middle of the road, it seemed that nothing would go according to plan. From reading several synopses, I got the impression that this was going to be a zombie flick. It actually wasn’t because even though there was an infection (thanks to “28 Days Later”), the people who died did not rise from the dead and start chasing people. It was simple: you get the virus, you die. I was really into the first half of this picture because of the chemistry of the four main characters. They were all very different and I liked them because they weren’t afraid to have fun even though death was all around. I even thought to myself that I wouldn’t mind being stuck with them if there was a pandemic of such calamity in real life. However, the second half became a little too serious and the pacing began to slow down considerably. For instance, the extended scenes in the fancy hotel was completely unnecessary. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to deliver the creepy atmosphere and maybe some disgusting rotting flesh because the place was huge. Unfortunately, the movie did not use that setting in its favor. The moral conundrums the characters were put into were interesting in the first half but they became heavy-handed during the second half. The decisions the characters had to make did not affect me in the slightest. They seemed like completely different people compared to the beginning. I felt like the Pastor brothers’ writing became preachy (pardon the pun) and it got stuck. It would have been nice if none of the four got infected because right from the very beginning, I just knew that some (or possibly all) of them would die. I could tell that the directors wanted to do something different so I didn’t understand why they didn’t risk it all. Nevertheless, I say “Carriers” is a decent Friday night rental considering the level of thought that was put into the material, the charismatic actors and the limited budget. One should not expect the movie to be a horror film (as I did). There were a couple of shocking scenes but that was about it so it really was more like a thriller.
Crazies, The (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
A remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 original of the same name, “The Crazies” was about a man (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife’s (Radha Mitchell) struggle for survival when a strange chemical started affecting their friends and neighbors. At first, the infected would have a fever but after two days, they would exhibit strange behaviors which ranged from catatonia to full-on violence like killing their families or random strangers. I was surprised with how good this movie was because most of the reviews I read expressed disappointment. I really liked that this film, directed by Breck Eisner, knew how to build suspense and had a pay-off every ten to fifteen minutes so I was engaged with what would happen next. I loved the way it used tight spaces to its advantage, such as the horrifyingly terrific scenes in the morgue and the car wash. When at its best, it reminded me of the relentless scenes in “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.” Unfortunately, the film had its drawbacks thirty minutes into it when the military started taking over the small town. Prior to that, I thought the movie was fantastic because it felt personal. The main characters had no idea what was going on and slowly but surely, the safe life they were so used to living was broken by very strange and creepy happenings which started during a baseball game. With the military in the picture, it became cold and impersonal. Having said that, since this was a remake, I knew that it still had to remain loyal to its original source. However, I felt as though the movie could have minimized the military scenes, which they did during the last twenty or so minutes. But maybe this version minimized the politics as much as they could. I’m not sure because I haven’t seen the original. The movie was at its best when the lead characters who were easy to root for were placed in paranoid situations in which they either had to hide from an infected or think that a friend had the virus and it was only a matter of time until they wouldn’t be on the same side anymore. “The Crazies” was fun to watch because when it’s serious, it gets pretty scary, but it had unintentionally funny lines. It reminded me of a hybrid among the zombie pictures mentioned earlier, “The Happening” and the highly underrated “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” back in 2003. It could have used a little more brain and character development but those elements were the furthest things in my mind when the characters were being attacked from left and right in the most gruesome ways possible.
★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, this Australian zombie horror-comedy plays more like a science fiction movie more than anything. Rene (Felicity Mason) goes into a farmhouse to escape the zombies that were chasing her after a meteor shower. In the farmhouse, she meets a few others (Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter, Emma Randall) and they must figure out what is happening in the town while trying not to get eaten by the zombies. I didn’t enjoy this movie at all due to a number of things. The characters kept asking, “What were THOSE things? Why are they trying to eat us? Are they dead?” as if they’ve never seen a zombie movie before. Moreover, the characters are very one-dimensional. It would have been so much better if the cops were the cowards and the regular folks would have been the leaders. Taking some of those obvious elements and putting them upside down would have given the illusion that the directors were trying to make a better movie. For a horror picture, this is very light on the scary factor. The zombies are slow enough but did the characters have to be slow as well (mentally and physically)? None of them had actual survival skills and I wouldn’t buy for a second that they would survive if there were real zombies running around. If I see a zombie trying to get to me to eat my brains, I would run so fast, I wouldn’t even think about silly things like leaving something behind. The stupid characters were good at three things: screaming, yelling at each other, and asking redundant questions. Lastly, I’m very frustrated with the fact that there were actual aliens in this movie. It was so random and everything was spelled out for us in the end: why there were zombies and why the aliens decided to visit our planet. What made other zombie flicks so successful (1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” and “28 Days Later”) was the fact that there were questions left unanswered. Even if they were answered, those films left a possibility that the truth lies beyond the given explanation. Overall, “Undead” was a random mess of a movie. It is far from creative and it didn’t have enough enthusiasm to keep my attention. I thought “Zombieland” was far scarier and that was a comedy. That should give you an idea with how lackluster this movie truly is.
★★★ / ★★★★
Having seen and being impressed with the remake called “Quarantine,” I just had to see the original. I think both are very effective even though they pretty much had the same scenes. In “[REC],” astutely directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, it had less exposition but the audiences quickly cared about the reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman. The reporter had a certain spunk and enthusiasm and what the cameraman saw, we saw so there was an automatic connection there. Everything starts off pretty light as the reporter interviewed the firemen about their every day happenings. Things quickly went for a darker turn when the firefighters got a call from an old apartment complex. At first, they thought it was just an old woman that fell and needed help. But when she started attacking and biting people, everyone pretty much knew that something more sinister was going on. People started dying in gruesome ways in the hands of zombie-like infected people and they get quarantined by city officials without an ounce of explanation. What I love about this film was its natural ability to build tension after each scene. There were moments when I thought that if I was stuck in the building with them, the exact same thing could happen so I was definitely more than engaged. “The Blair Witch Project” was undoubtedly this picture’s biggest inspiration but it managed to tilt just enough to have an identity of its own. The best part of the movie for me was the last fifteen to twenty minutes when they finally made it inside the apartment on the top floor. Such scenes revealed to us that it had more to it than “28 Days Later”-like zombies. The disease had a history and I wanted to know more about it. (Maybe a sequel?) But, of course, the scares did not end there. I felt like I was in that dark room with them as they tried to use the night vision option on the camera. I tried not to blink because I was expecting those “shock”/”jumpy” moments. But even then I was surprised and things popped out of nowhere. If one is a horror film fan, this is a must-see. However, this is definitely not for those who dislike shaky cameras in order to add some type of realism to its craft.
★★★ / ★★★★
I was surprised by the quality of this little horror film. Directed by Toby Wilkins, “Splinter” is a story about a couple going camping on their anniversary (Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner) and are ambushed by an escaped convict (Shea Whigham) and his girlfriend (Rachel Kerbs). Initially enemies, the two couples had to team up right away after running over a creature that feeds off human and animal blood. Not to mention that it can take over its host after it feeds off the host’s blood. I was horrified because of the way the body moved when the creature was controlling its victim’s bodies. It reminded me of the possessed girl in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and those rabid zombies in “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.” Even though this is a small film, it was surprising how much gore it has. It goes to show that a script with smarts and a creative director can go a long way. I was also impressed by the acting. Even though I liked the “good guys” right away because they were cute and funny together, I also found myself feeling for the “bad guys” because of their circumstance. Another thing I liked about this film was that it didn’t even bother to explain where the creature came from. Most creature-feature films fall for the trap of having to elucidate why and how a monster came into existence. I was glad that this one did not. If one is a fan of horror movies where the characters are trapped in one place (in this case, in a gas station), the characters are smart but not above being silly, and there’s a plethora of effective thrills, “Splinter” is definitely the one to see. I couldn’t help but shudder (and maybe even squeal a bit) during some of the most intense scenes.
★★ / ★★★★
I think a lot of critics and audiences alike have been way harsh on this film. I concur that this picture is not easy to swallow and digest since most of the story took place in one area. It definitely got suffocating because the audiences are subjected to see the same place for about an hour and fifteen minutes (the middle portion); the only things that changed are the increasingly disgusting living conditions of the blind and the dynamics among the wards. Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore lead one of the wards, a doctor and a doctor’s wife, one lost his sight and the other one kept her sight (though it must be kept a secret), respectively. It was interesting to watch their relationship change as the film went on because Ruffalo depended on his wife regarding pretty much everything. There was a brilliant scene when Ruffalo talked to Moore about not seeing her the same after she feeds him, bathes him, and cleans him up in ways that a nurse or mother normally does. There was this undeniable tension between them but at the same time they must stay together because everything around them is falling apart. I thought it was interesting how Fernando Meirelles, the director, chose to tell the story. In the first few scenes, we focus on this one man who suddenly goes blind in the middle of traffic (Yusuke Iseya) and slowly transition to other people suddenly going blind to the point where it becomes an epidemic. The epidemic and ravaged city reminded me of “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later,” only instead of zombies roaming the streets, it’s blind individuals. I also liked the slightly hopeful ending because the suffering was not entirely for naught. Still, by the end of the picture, I still wanted to know the source of the epidemic. That lack of explanation somewhat got to me (and I imagine as most people would). I don’t deny the fact that I saw some hints of great filmmaking here such as the stark contrast between certain images in the beginning and the end of the movie. I also liked the “Lord of the Flies” element in the quarantine zone when everyone had to decide who would get how much food, who the leader should be and who would emerge victorious between the wards. I’ve never seen Gael García Bernal so immoral so his character definitely took me by surprise. With a little bit more explanation and less saggy middle portion, this would’ve been a much powerful film. The acting was already really good and there were scenes that really tugged at my heartstrings. See this if you’re curious and hopefully you’ll see what I see in it: potential.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
I enjoyed this film quite a bit but I think most people tend to oversell it. Yes, it’s uplifting because it’s about a boy who lived in poverty and is eventually given the chance to win twenty million rupees. Dev Patel (“Skins”) did a pretty good job as the main character but his acting is not ground-breaking. He shows potential to become more nuanced as an actor and that’s always a good thing. And I have to admit that the last twenty to thirty minutes are very exciting and involving because everything is at stake. However, I’ve seen it all before. I expected more from Danny Boyle because he does make great movies such as “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later,” and “Millions.” This film, however, doesn’t leave the platform of “just good” because the middle is too messy; it ran thirty minutes too long. When I look at the big picture, the film would’ve been stronger if the middle had been condensed because it would’ve had more focus. This picture aims to please the crowd and it will definitely hook the fans of (another overrated film) called “City of God.” Both feature impoverished individuals trying to attain a chance to lead a better life. I’m glad that foreign films are being recognized, but I wish casual American moviegoers wouldn’t jump at every foreign film where they see some sort of hardship. It really shows how unaware they are about the state of the rest of the world. Anyway, I’m recommending this film despite the familiarity of it all because it has an interesting premise and a good soundtrack. It’s not as great as everyone says it is but it does entertain and makes one ponder about his destiny.