Tag: 28 days later

World War Z


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.

Zombi 2


Zombi 2 (1979)
★ / ★★★★

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.

Daybreakers


Daybreakers (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

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.

Carriers


Carriers (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

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.

The Crazies


The Crazies (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.

Undead


Undead (2003)
★ / ★★★★

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.

Zombieland


Zombieland (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

I love zombie movies because I’m fascinated with the idea of the dead taking over the world of the living. (Did I mention I have nightmares about zombies?) Not to mention zombie flicks usually have social commentaries which were not absent in this little gem. “Zombieland,” directed by Ruben Fleischer, stars Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus, who wants to make his way to Ohio to be reunited with his parents. On the road, he meets Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, a man on a mission to find Twinkies; Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as Wichita and Little Rock, respectively, sisters who initially look innocent but turn out to have a knack for survival. The very “28 Days Later”-like gathering of very different people was smart because all of them yearned for that rare human connection in a world full of flesh-eating monsters. All four of them eventualy head to Southern California in order to find refuge with other humans. I love this movie’s self-awareness. It seemed to know its strengths which were highlighted in the beginning of the film as Eisenberg described his survival guide. It was done with such craft because the jokes were genuinely laugh-out-loud funny so the realization that it was all a gimmick later on became insignificant. The flashback scenes were done well, especially how Eisenberg’s character reflected on how much of a loser he was back when humans still ruled the planet–staying in on a Friday night playing video games, not socializing with people, and not getting enough attention from girls. A lot of people compare him to Michael Cera but I think there’s an important difference between the two. I think Eisenberg’s awkwardness is edgy and his characters usually have a certain toughness. Cera’s awkwardness, on the other hand, is softer and cuter–the kind that makes you go “Aww” and maybe pet him afterwards. That awareness was also highlighted via pop culture references from Russell Crowe, Facebook to Ghostbusters. Comparisons to “Shaun of the Dead” is inevitable because it is a horror-comedy about zombies. But I think “Zombieland” is a little scarier because the characters didn’t stop to analyze a zombie, imitate, and make quirky comments about them. All of that said, I had one problem with the film. I thought it slowed down a bit somewhere in the middle because it spent too much of its time showing the characters bickering on the road. It got redundant and such scenes could have been taken out and instead added terrifyingly slow suspenseful scenes. Lastly, I thought the final showdown at the carnival was inspired. The movie was able to find ways on how to kill zombies using the rides or the characters using the rides to their advantage. It made me want to ride a rollercoaster right then and there. I’ve read audiences’ reviews about how surprised they were with how good the movie was. To be honest, right after I saw the trailer for the first time, I had a sneaky feeling that it was going to be good. It certainly didn’t disappoint and in some ways exceeded expectations. If you love zombie movies, blood and guts, cameos, and pop culture allusions all rolled into one, then see this immediately. It’s total escapism and it has the potential to get better after multiple viewings.