Tag: zombies

Cargo


Cargo (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Although dramatic horror-thriller “Cargo” offers an intriguing premise involving a father who must find a safe haven for his infant child during a zombie apocalypse, the work is neither particularly moving nor exciting. For the most part, it is repetitive in that it involves a lot of walking, sometimes in circles, across beautiful Australian desert lands. I found only modest entertainment out of it outside of moments when the undead lunges and goes for a bite.

The screenplay is written by Yolanda Ramke, who co-directs with Ben Howling, and it is clear that she is going for a more character-driven piece. The desperate father, Andy, is played by Martin Freeman who is suitable for the role. However, the character does not possess much depth to him other than his level of determination to provide safety for his kin. He is thrown into difficult situations, like clashing with an opportunist (Anthony Hayes) who makes an outpost at a former gas plant, but we learn he is not especially strategic or cunning when necessary. We get the impression eventually that he survives thus far simply because the plot requires that he does. I found the character boring at times.

At least the zombies possess curious behavior. Symptoms are bizarre and creepy, particularly when they feel compelled to dig a hole and put their heads in it. Nothing is explained and so we consider the possibilities. Do they feel the need to hide or protect their heads from heat, light, sound, or something else? A brown, viscous substance comes out of their eyes, noses, mouths, even open wounds. These are details worth seeing in a zombie flick because they have not been introduced within this context before. It leaves plenty to the imagination which helps during the film’s slower moments.

Also worth thinking about is the inclusion of an Aboriginal cast. I am not well-versed in the history behind Australia’s ancient people and white men introduced to the island, but it is apparent that there is social commentary about the two groups and infectious diseases. There are beautiful images of indigenous warriors covered in paint slaying the hordes of the undead among the smoke. There is a dream-like quality about it that is almost poetic. I was more interested in getting to know these warriors than the man who wishes to save his baby.

Although the film introduces new elements to the well-worn sub-genre, I found “Cargo” to be tolerable hike rather than thoroughly absorbing as a character-driven dramatic work that just so happens to have horror elements. It cannot be denied that it has ambition, but I found that, as a whole, it is a bit dull and it offers minimal tension. If bitten, victims of zombie attacks have forty-eight hours before they become one themselves. There were moments when I wished to speed up the countdown.

Day of the Dead: Bloodline


Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018)
★ / ★★★★

There should be a rule for every remake or reimagining: strive to be better than the film from which the project is inspired by. Here is yet another zombie picture that goes on autopilot, devoid of any intrigue by the fifteen-minute mark. In the middle of all the flesh-bitings, arguments amongst survivors in an underground bunker, and long periods in which nothing of interest ever happens, I wondered how it received the green light to be made. A mediocre episode of the early seasons of “The Walking Dead” is better than this drivel, certainly better at establishing a specific mood and unhurried pacing.

If the dearth curiosity or intrigue doesn’t get under your skin eventually, the terrible dialogue ought to do the job. Without failure, notice that in just about every other scene someone must describe exactly what he or she is feeling or thinking. Couple this with the inexperience of some of the performers, it is deadly. As a result, we do not feel inclined to look more deeply into the characters. What is the point of it when their motivations are laid out for us like a welcoming mat? There is a way to write dialogue, especially in horror films, so that the viewers wish to know, to observe the various personalities like a hawk, to understand what makes them tick, to anticipate a potential betrayal when things do not feel quite right.

There is neither suspense nor thrills. Part of the issue is a lack of understanding regarding which type of editing and pacing should be utilized in order to maximize a sense of discombobulation. It is very quick to go for the jugular, so to speak, rather than taking its time to bait us, to allow us to consider whether a setup might be heading toward a false alarm or about to unfold into a genuinely horrifying experience. For some reason, it is shot like an action film just because there are guns in it. It comes across as confused regarding what type of movie it wishes to be.

Even in pictures like Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” and its high-quality sequel, sure there are guns and manic editing is employed at times, but there are variations in the way scenes play out. We get long stretches of silence where we cannot help but anticipate what is possibly hiding behind the shadows. Only because there are variation in setting, mood, and pacing, perhaps then that the best ten- to fifteen-minute section involves a trip outside of the bunker in order to acquire medicine for a little girl (Lillian Blankenship). Specifically, Zoe (Sophie Skelton), being trained as a physician prior to the virus outbreak, and others with military training (Marcus Vanco, Atanas Srebev, Mark Rhino Smith) must break into a medical facility despite the place being infested with zombies—referred to in the film as Rotters. This is not enough to elevate a material lacking freshness.

The dead may be on the run in “Day of the Dead: Bloodline,” directed by Hèctor Hernández Vicens, but it is potential audiences who should be running away from it. As someone who works in a lab, it got so boring at times that I couldn’t help but wonder about the brands of pipets, microscope slides, and centrifuges; whether the actors were holding laboratory equipments the right way, whether they were wearing personal protective equipment.

It Stains the Sands Red


It Stains the Sands Red (2016)
★ / ★★★★

Here is the kind of zombie picture where the heroine falls on the ground for no reason when faced with an immediate threat and we are supposed to believe somehow that this is thrilling rather than silly or downright idiotic. For much of its ninety-minute running time, which actually feels at least an hour longer, the plot fails to take off. Boredom grips the mind and when it finally does get somewhat interesting, the twist is dropped so quickly in exchange for standard zombie film clichés. The material is in desperate need of rewrite.

Directed by Colin Minihan, “It Stains the Sands Red” is set in a universe where the undead has taken over Las Vegas. Molly (Brittany Allen), an exotic dancer with drug addiction, is with her boyfriend (Merwin Mondesir) while on their way out of the city when their car gets stuck on the side of the road. Since they are in the middle of the desert, no help can be found nearby for miles. However, there is a zombie (Juan Riedinger) on the hunt for its next meal and it is closer to the couple than they realize.

Much of the picture involves Molly walking around the desert while being followed by the flesh-eater. Painfully obvious is the fact that the situation is metaphor for the heroine literally being followed by the demons of her past. Writers Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz fail to assume that the audience is intelligent enough to see past the various symbolisms. Instead, the material adopts a repetitive cycle of a small chase between the woman and the zombie, Molly getting away somehow, day turning into night, a flashback into Molly’s life, rinse and repeat. No tension is accumulated because the situation is watered down by various attempts at dark comedy—only the humor is equally predictable as the metaphor.

There is a twist involving a change in relationship between predator and prey that I thought paved the way for an interesting avenue. I wondered that perhaps the film is not supposed to function mainly as a horror film but an experimental think piece. But this proved to be giving the filmmakers too much credit too soon because just when it starts to get interesting, it moves onto a path so uninspired, so oft tread upon, that one wishes for the experience to be over immediately. Right then we know exactly where the movie is heading.

Creating a badass heroine is especially difficult to accomplish. For one, a performer with range must be hired for the job. Second, the writing must be so on point yet so subtle that we believe the evolution without question whatsoever. Third, the story usually commands a standard arc but with enough fascinating pieces added throughout that we do not mind the typical dramatic parabola so much. But the film does not possess any of these qualities. Notice how the movie ends. There is no closure. Clearly, the writers do not understand what the movie is about. If they did, they would have realized that closure would have completed the character’s journey. Perhaps they were hoping for a sequel?

The quality of “It Stains the Sands Red” is captured perfectly with a scene involving Molly attempting to fight a zombie with a rock. Enough said.

The Horde


The Horde (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Benjamin Rocher and Yannick Dahan’s “The Horde” is yet another uninspired zombie apocalypse picture in which characters constantly argue while supposedly struggling for survival, but not one of them manages to offer a compelling angle. What results is just noise—screaming matches between the participants, sudden booming of the score and soundtrack, and the screeching, rabid undead from afar. Each passing minute is as unbearably subpar as the last.

The first act shows a glimmer of promise when four Parisian cops sneak into a rundown high-rise to get revenge on drug dealers who killed one of their own (Jean-Pierre Martins and Eriq Ebouaney portraying leaders of the police and drug traffickers, respectively). However, the opposite groups are forced to put aside their differences when they learn that the dead have risen and the building is already surrounded by the undead. At first, it appears that the filmmakers have an eye for action. It gets us from Point A to Point B with escalating tension. It knows how to employ silence and then break it at the right moment.

This promise, however, dissipates the moment hungry flesh-eaters are revealed. Despite excellent makeup, realistic-looking blood, and flinch-inducing violence, it is especially difficult to become enveloped into the reality of the characters’ circumstance since the screenplay lacks intelligence. For example, there is more than one occasion in which characters observe that one way to stop a zombie completely is to shoot it in the head. And yet there are numerous instances where they get trapped and start shooting the zombies at just about every place except the head—it is no longer scary, it turns silly and laughable. When characters are stupid, audiences tend to see right through the facade and it leaves a foul taste in the mouth.

There is a lack of variation amongst the personality of the characters. All of them act tough and hard—yet not one of them is especially smart, or sensitive, or commands a special will or knack for survival. Their differences are painfully superficial. There is no protagonist worth rooting for, but the writers decide it is necessary to create a final survivor simply because it is expected from the subgenre. The problem is, anyone could have predicted the identity of the last person standing from the moment a certain detail is revealed. We simply wait for everyone else to get picked off.

“La horde” offers nothing new to the table. It suffers from too many inconsistencies. For instance, early in the picture, one zombie commands such superhuman strength that not even three people are enough to take it down. Later on, however, a horde of zombies are unable to climb to the roof of a relatively small car to acquire their next meal. Not even zombie flicks are immune from having to establish certain rules and follow through such rules so that its universe makes a whiff of sense.

The Rezort


The Rezort (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

The “Jurassic Park” meets “The Walking Dead” premise might sound ridiculous at first glance, but “The Rezort,” written by Paul Gerstenberger and directed by Steve Barker, proves able to rise above its premise, offering a tension-filled, consistently entertaining, gory good time. At least during the first half, it makes an appealing case to visit an island northwest of Africa so one can have the opportunity to kill as many undead as one wishes, as if it were some sort of a sporting event. The final act dares to make a political statement relevant to many countries across our increasingly modern world.

The setting is quite inspired. The story takes place several years after a zombie apocalypse. But instead of a bleak future, here, the living has won the battle against the zombies. However, there are people out there, like our heroine, Melanie (Jessica De Gouw), who survived the war but unable to move on since she is haunted by what had happened when she was a child. She hopes that by going to the zombie resort and summoning the courage to shoot a zombie in the head, it will help resolve the trauma that plagues her. Unbeknownst to her and her fellow guests, however, the computer system designed to keep the flesh-eaters restrained is about to go horribly awry.

Perhaps not on purpose, the inconsistency between slow-moving and fast-moving undead works to the picture’s advantage. Since the material moves fast—coupled with a real eye for framing—especially with its kills—and tight editing is utilized during chases, such an inconsistency manages to create a wonderful surprise. With each encounter in every new location, we wonder whether the characters are about to come across the slower moving, less threatening kind or the rabid ones that bring “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later” to mind.

It is expected that the group of survivors contain colorful characters, but it is uncommon that just about each one actually has an interesting story to tell. For instance, take note that Lewis (Martin McCann), Melanie’s boyfriend, who is so kind and caring before the outbreak slowly turning into the person that he was during the zombie war. Even the annoying teenagers, Jack (Jassa Ahluwalia) and Alfie (Lawrence Walker), are given a curious backstory: they won an online shooter/video game competition and having done so has granted them to shoot real guns and shoot at real (former) people. When one of them dies eventually, I was surprised how much I ended up caring for the fate of the other.

The special and visual effects are well-done and well-executed. As usual, my favorite moments involve the camera being up close to fresh bites, deep gashes, and mortal wounds. Even the viscosity of the blood is just right; I have a problem with horror films where the blood is so thick, they look more like corn syrup mixed with red dye. Here, the color and thickness of the blood usually looks something like I would get from, say, a nosebleed. In some scenes, I could almost smell that sort of metallic taste or smell that blood emanates.

“The Rezort,” also known as “Generation Z,” offers a handful of fresh ideas that make us want to take it a bit more seriously than its less ambitious contemporaries. Zombie movies are about survival, and this story offers more than one group’s attempt to survive.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse


Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” written by Carrie Lee Wilson, Emi Mochizuki and Christopher Landon, is a horror-comedy that so desperately wants to share the same royal bloodline as Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” but ends up becoming a weak knock-off, its bastard. Although it offers a few chuckle-worthy moments, not one attempt to make us laugh is particularly clever or memorable whether in terms of its dialogue or its images. The picture will not be remembered twenty years from now.

Part of the problem is it wants to have the cake and eat it, too. It tries real hard to appeal to the masses with its elementary-level comprehension of the undead and in between moments of sickeningly ordinary splatter-fest are naughty jokes that we’ve all seen and heard of during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Thus, the writing here is not only superficial but also dated.

The plot revolves around three high school students (Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan), rejected by their peers because they are scouts, who wish to have chance at being cool. Their skills just might separate them from the pack, however, when an infection begins in a research facility and quickly spreads around their hometown. Although the premise sounds promising, it is clear that the writers have no idea about—or have since lost track of—how it is like being an outcast, especially in high school.

The three protagonists are cardboard cutouts with nothing interesting to say or do. The emotions they express are false, only reaching highs and lows when the plot requires them to become less static. We are given no understanding as to why the three are friends in the first place other than they shared a childhood interesting in scouting. We never shake off the feeling that we are watching three actors reciting lines.

The zombies look convincing and it is a good decision to make them move fast because it injects some adrenaline in a film that has otherwise flatlined. Some amusement can be taken out of the extras clearly having fun with all the crazy makeup and simply being a part of a movie. I felt more freshness from looking at the background than I did looking at the foreground—an observation that occurred to me once I was convinced that the picture would offer no redeeming value.

Directed by Christopher Landon, “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” will charm some due to its spirited nature and willingness to impress. But more observant and experienced viewers will notice its over reliance on CGI—which takes away the requisite edge a movie of this type ought to have—and its negative view of women, with the exception of a character named Denise (Sarah Dumont). Watching her put a smile on my face because I felt as though she is a close cousin of one of the tough, trash-talking women from Quentin Tarantino’s highly underrated but supremely entertaining “Death Proof.”

Life After Beth


Life After Beth (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Grief-stricken by the sudden death of his girlfriend, Zach (Dane DeHaan) spends most of his time and energy with Beth’s equally devastated parents (John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon). Several days after Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is buried, Zach takes a peek through the Slocum’s window and sees his girlfriend walking around. Convinced that her “death” is only an elaborate hoax because she did not want to break up with him, Zach is determined to get an explanation from Beth and her family.

“Life After Beth,” written and directed by Jeff Baena, has a tolerable few first few minutes but it only gets increasingly bad as it goes on. Already light on horror compounded with barely any comedy in its bones, the picture is stuck in soporific limbo, relying solely on its potentially amusing premise to barely get by. This is another movie that proves the horror-comedy genre is tough act to pull off well.

It should have covered a spectrum of emotions. The first act could have worked as a drama given that the characters are in mourning of a life taken too soon. The middle portion could have been an effective romantic comedy that allows us to get a complete idea of how Zach and Beth were like together before her transition. And the final third could have worked as a horror-comedy, somewhere along the lines of Ruben Fleischer’s “Zombieland” and Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead.” Alas, the screenplay relies only on behavior to tell its unfunny, far from amusing “jokes.”

The material appears to have no understanding of what grief is really like. There is not one character here written to respond like a human being after he or she has lost a loved one. Reilly and Shannon look as though they are aware they are in a spoof. DeHaan does not stand a chance because Zach is written like a walking checklist of someone who is clinically depressed—not someone who is grieving. There is a subtle but important difference.

DeHaan and Plaza share no chemistry, but the bigger concern is the screenplay not allowing the two of them to have a genuinely sweet moment. It is important that the audience be shown or are inspired to imagine how the couple are or might be like if the whole premise involving one coming back from the dead had been taken away completely. The relationship being grounded in reality is the only way we grow to care about the characters even if the performers do not emit spark together.

There is a subplot involving an apocalypse which is completely mishandled. It is anticlimactic instead of thrilling, quite bland and boring instead of exciting. We never get the impression that anything remotely bonkers can occur at any time so we sit in our chairs feeling confused as to why the writer-director has chosen to go down such a path. Maybe he ran out of ideas and felt compelled to attach a third act—any third act just to have one? Or it is possible, since it is his first feature film, that Baena had too many ideas but chose the wrong ones to put into celluloid.

Either way, “Life After Beth” does not work. The horror-comedy genre tends to work if functioning under extremes: It is either so funny that we welcome—and eventually crave—the unsuspected scares or so scary that when the comedy does arrive, we are not sure whether to laugh or label the situation as cruel or dark. Falling between the two extremes, however, tends to invoke frustration, anger, and boredom.