Before we start I want to get one thing off my chest. I went into this thinking I was getting something pretty much hot off the press . It was released here a week ago, and even appeared on the NEW shelf at my local supermarket. It was ten or so minutes in, tablet on lap and a half glance at the Amazon review page that I saw those words that are becoming all too familiar and even jading my appreciation of the budget amateur horror scene; 'also released under the name'. It's happening all too often. Take a film that hasn't done particularly well, spend a few pounds tarting it up with all new and totally irrelevant box art, give it a new catchy name then throw it out on an unsuspecting audience that's lapping up all things Z in Brad Pitt's wake. I know why publishers are doing it; it's just cynical, exploitative and I don't care much for the practice. I also swear it's only going to be a matter of time before I spend too much money on something I already own and then if you think this rant's bad, I'll fucking explode.
Anyhow. What did I make of the 2009 Dead Men Walking? For a film that's the best part of two hours long, has awful film and sound capture and where nothing much really happens I actually didn't mind it. Let's be clear though. If you're after a zombie film with wall to wall flesh eating, pandemonium and action this film is going to bore you to tears. Adapted from David Moody's Autumn book series Dead Men Walking is a slow, character driven survival story concentrating on real peoples emotional and practical reactions to a world ending viral pandemic. The dead start dead, the survivors are arbitrary and their numbers miniscule and for well over an hour the main worry isn't whether something will leap out and gnaw your arm off it's more likely to be who's opening the wine and who will pass the mayonnaise. You'll either be drawn into this taut long winded post apocalyptic survival gubbins like I was, or, as I said, you'll be wishing you were watching The Horde again.
Dexter Fletcher is Michael, a high school lecturer who had to watch his entire class spew blood, splutter and die in front of him in a matter of moments. Dickon Tolson is Carl; a devoted father and husband aimlessly wandering the streets after leaving the corpses of his family to rot in their home. It's true and total viral apocalypse and the few survivors that are left are lost, confused and emotionally depleted.
It's a slow burn. Director Steven Rumbelow paints a good desolate post apocalyptic landscape, the streets are strewn with bodies, vehicles burn and there's an eerie atmosphere to a cityscape devoid of all human activity. The disparate group Michael and Carl find themselves hiding away with are in total shock unable to agree what course of action should be taken and unwilling to accept the full extent of the what might have happened. They've just about agreed on what they're arguing about when the dead stand up and there's a far bigger issue to deal with.
I'd not come across David Moody's work before and though the film does have an awful lot wrong, I did like the constant emphasis on the practicalities of surviving in a post apocalyptic world and I very much enjoyed the fresh and unusual approach taken to the zombie threat. Moody's zombies start dead. Really dead; their hearts expire, their brains shut down and they're lying on the ground not moving. A few days later something fires back up and a twitch here, a spark there and they're back on their feet shuffling around aimlessly but most important harmlessly.
As I said, for the bulk of the film the zombies aren't the threat; well that's not strictly true. Michael and few of the group are concerned about them, but only in that they are still technically dead and rotting and they know enough about disease to want to get out of the city before they catch something really nasty. There's a bit of macho posturing as the disparate group try to establish rank but it comes to little, Michael and Carl get away, they're joined by Emma (Lana Kamenov) and they find themselves an isolated pretty little rural farmhouse to call home. It ultimately proves to have been the wiser choice too as the dead getting to their feet seems to have been just the start of it all.
The zombies keep getting a little smarter, a little more aggressive, and Michael, Carl and Emma keep playing house waiting for corpses to rot or winter to come and freeze them all, all the while shrugging off the fact they might actually be in a spot of trouble and all the while struggling to find a reason to carry on believing the world bereft of future and hope. It's slow and rambling with a lot of long drawn out self indulgent dialogue but the acting is strong and the atmosphere coherent and constantly tense.
The zombies are well made up with dark blackened rotting visages and their transformation from recently deceased to spoilt-meat is convincing and bleak. Rumbelow may be good at picturing the end of the world but what's apparent is he struggles with action. Constant over use of blurry slowed or speeded film, off frame focus, and poor special effects; it's all a bit of an artistic and technical confusing mess, not helped by having, as said earlier, some appalling sound and film capture.
I can really understand why so many were left deeply unimpressed with Rumbelow's zombie foray. The action takes a long time to come and when it does it's flawed and deeply underwhelming. The narrative and dialogue is all also bit tempered and the times the story does branch out it all feels a bit clumsy and forced. But, taken as a bleak post apocalyptic character driven story that just happens to have zombies in, rather than a zombie horror that happens to be post apocalyptic there's a lot to commend. I've also been led to believe the prosaic survival emphasis and slow pace is a deliberate consequence of faithfully following the first book, and all in all I quite liked the change in pace from the day to day blood shed and carnage I put myself through. One final thought. I kind of felt Dead Men Walking was actually quite a poignant and fitting title. From start to finish I couldn't help but see the survivors as those who were the ones actually dead inside; lost, withdrawn without hope or direction and it was their journey, and their competent portrayal that drove the film. I would really have liked to see a sequel, perhaps with a new director, but as that doesn't look particularly likely I'll have to make do with the real thing (the books) and for that alone I won't be too hard on the film, 4/10.