Thursday, 30 January 2014

Flight of the Living Dead (Outbreak on a Plane) - review

2007 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

I'm slightly ashamed and perplexed by just how much I enjoyed Scott Thomas's shallow little claustrophobic zombie action popcorn piece. A convenient and utterly contrived back-story, a hollow bunch of conveniently one dimensional characters with singular hopes and dreams and a story that plays out as you'd expect, if you've ever watched another tense-drama-on-a-plane-flick. There's nothing really new, or anything on paper to really right home about, and yet, and here's the thing, there's a reason the forced isolation of a plane works to drive narrative tension, and our zombie friends do work bloody well when there's absolutely no way of escaping. In truth it's a marriage made in, err, hell and one I'm surprised no one thought of sooner. 

It's your Return of the Living Dead secret military-esque utterly avoidable scientific fumble. Three fringe scientists having managed to manipulate a strain of malaria so that it can be used to reanimate the dead have decided to transport one of their recently deceased wives from Los Angeles to Paris in the cargo hold of a commercial plane in a particularly bad storm. Engineering a ridiculous and obviously stupid set up is a zombie film trope, and all part of the fun, but even I sometimes have to wince at what film-makers would have us believe is even vaguely plausible. Highly dangerous experimental untested undead cargo, plane and storm, of course things are going to go bad, but you know what? I'm going to let Flight of the Living Dead off. It's so obviously a play on Return of the Living Dead meets Snakes on a Plane and all so beautifully simple yet elaborately stoopid it works and sets the theme for the rest of the film. If you can go with this premise then it's easier to go along with the oodles of carnage, bloodshed, explosions (yes I said explosions and yes we're still on a plane) and stoopidity that follow.

This all being said it never actually becomes a full on farce or comedy. First and foremost this is an action film pitting, by the midpoint, an ever dwindling core of survival experts replete with quite a lot of firepower against an ever swelling zombie horde. The first part of the film is your typical set-up with victims and survivors introduced and a taut tense to and fro that something's gone wrong in the cargo hold, and unbeknown to the pilot (Raymond J. Barry), crew and passengers things have the potential to be a lot, lot worse. The film does a commendable job allowing the tension to build up naturally and the ever present threat is just the right blend of suspense, and actual horror and scares.

At the right time, with the threat emergent the film allows itself to go full on action horror but one thing I wasn't prepared for was not just how visceral and down right nasty the zombies would be, but just how brilliantly and bloody Thomas would allow them to be on camera. There's no dally or restraint and the blood thirsty killing machines of Flight of the Living Dead are given all the focus and attention they deserve as they go about their carnival of slaughter. They grapple, they chase, they lash out and they bite given any and every opportunity. A bit of ankle unprotected? You're done. Push them away, they'll have your hand. Hide? They will find you and they will eat you. I loved every minute darn minute of their screen time, which was a lot, and it was refreshing to see feral vicious monsters take their opportunities rather than, as is so often the case fuck about waiting for the ideal money-shot (bite). The special effects were constantly believable and gratuitous, and the action and zombie dispatching ramped up lovely. I did have more than a few fleeting moments of head scratching at just how the plane was withstanding the incredible pounding it was receiving from bullets, bangs and at one point a rather large explosion but as it never really proposes you take it all that seriously it generally always got away with it.

The zombies are your now expected western homage to all that has gone before. They're not quite Romero being fast and strong but they're not Return of the Living Dead being taken down with a shot to the head with no hands and feet scuttling off with a reanimated will of their own. There's an attempt to explain and justify everything with a strain of malaria, transference of the virus by saliva / blood and the scientists going a bit rogue but it's all a bit superfluous if I'm honest as it's really not needed. There's a zombie, a darn good one, on a plane, it all goes wrong and that's enough.

For all that I bemoaned the shallow nature of the characters I have no real complaints with the long legged air stewardesses, Frank (Kevin J. O'Connor), the wise-ass and morally dubious prisoner being transported or his FBI handler, the calm, collected and extremely affable FBI agent Truman Burrows (David Chisum). The rag tag passengers, the jock's, air heads, golfers et al all make for good cannon fodder as they first get chased about then after being caught find themselves doing the chasing. Both alive and as zombies the cast do a first rate job and yes there's some hammyness to it all but it never above and beyond the remit.

Flight of the Living Dead is what it is. A fun tense and tight action horror of a zombie outbreak at ten thousand feet and I honestly don't think Scott Thomas could have done much better given the remit. The action builds up nicely and once it all really gets going it's the perfect relentless and visceral orgy of all the things I like about zombie. It even has a satisfying conclusion. A highly charged, highly enjoyable zombie thrill ride and one I'd recommend, 7/10.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Wake Wood - review

2011 (Ireland / UK)

Contains spoilers.

I'm starting to think the odd month or two break is probably for the best. I mean, I do enjoy a good bit of post apocalyptic bloodshed and eye gouging but I'm starting to think the relentless tide of misery, despair, death and hopelessness does get a bit too much after a while. Still we're back and refreshed after a lot of turkey, mince pies, oodles of booze, a lot of Zombicide, and finally, as if you'd missed it, the release of my post apocalyptic father / daughter love short story.

I picked up Wake Wood after reading Kev's commentary at Zombie Hall thinking as a low budget British horror with zombie elements in it would be right up my proverbial alley and I'm pleased to say it was. The only question mark is whether those returning from the dead in the quaint secluded hamlet of Wake Wood could actually be called zombies; and whether in any sense this could really be thought of as a zombie film.

Wake Wood, the brain child of writer Brendan McCarthy and co writer / director David Keating is a character drama gently addressing the inconsolable process of healing after the most painful of bereavements, it's also a fantastical fantasy / medieval folk story about a village with an incredulous secret and it's also quite the scary horror with some almost full on exploitative Fulci style deaths. That it attempts and achieves all of the above without ever feeling disjointed or segmented is in itself  surprising, that it does so retaining its poignancy, mood and message is commendable. Wake Wood is a beautifully crafted intelligently told narrative with a strong cohesive identity and despite the pure fantasy of the central device the core message is never devalued and the film retains its identity through to the satisfactory ending.

Patrick and Louise Daley (Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle) are struggling with the unfortunate death of their only daughter Alice (Ella Connolly). It's a year later, they've moved out the city to the small rural village of Wake Wood and with their relationship on the precipice they're given the glimmer of hope as they slowly uncover Wake Wood's secret. For one reason or another this small parish and it's citizens are able through folk magic and ritual to resurrect the recently deceased for three days where they can say their final farewells and find peace. Lead by Arthur, the retired village veterinarian (Timothy Spall) the villagers accept Patrick and Louise as one of their own and agree to help them see their daughter again.

Here's the deal. Using the life-force of the recently deceased, in this case the local farmer Mick O'Shea (Dan Gordon) who got slightly too intimate with a large moody heifer, Arthur is able to incant the old gods and forces and return the body and soul of someone else who has been dead less than a year. The old body has it's spinal cord cut and a charm from the one who is to come back placed in the mouth before being encased in some kind of muddy/clay cast and set alight. David Keating has captured the pagan ritual splendidly both extolling the sense of wonder and magic while firmly entrenching idea that this is both something old, familiar and pragmatic to those that have grown up with it as the norm.

Patrick and Louise are informed they have three days before Alice will have to return, that for all intents and purposes she will be as before with memories of both her time on earth and her time 'over there' and when the time comes she will leave of her own accord. The caveats are, she will be unable to leave the village and its lands and Patrick and Louise must commit themselves to the village accepting their bodies will be used in a similar fashion when the time comes.

In many ways I saw Alice and the others who returned as form of revenant, a departed soul brought back to conclude any unfinished business and make peace with those who were most affected. Alice has a heartbeat, she breathes, she is who she was and in that position she isn't a zombie as I now come to define them. There's no loss, no deadness to her return, she is alive, vibrant and in control. She's alice and Alice, just making a short trip back to the land of the living, well kind of...

This is a horror, or more precisely, a film with horror elements and while I'd probably agree it would still have worked as a tender and respectful character drama the direction McCarthy and Keating decided to take it is also compelling. Patrick and Louise kept a secret too and it's one that ultimately changes the tone of the film and how one thinks of Alice. Alice had been dead more than a year and while the small girl who returned is the same daughter they lost, something else, something more sinister and malevolent has fused and accompanied her.

It's subtle, it's never really explained and it could be argued all a bit narratively convenient, but the ambiguity as to why a year is the cut off is important, what the possessive demon-esque force that co-inhabits Alice's shell is or why it would want to sadistically rampage through the village all add to the atmosphere and mystique. Alice is now a revenant in the more traditional sense, a medieval corpse returned to terrorise the living and as such and seen perhaps as the resurrected body of Alice but not THE Alice, then the term zombie is befitting. I would probably argue the transformation of the film from loving soul search and pagan earth magic healing to one of bloodshed and carnage, is perhaps a little too full on and sudden, but I get where McCarthy and Keating were coming from, and they just about get away with it. Also the ritualised murder and mayhem Alice brings to the party at this point is also well constructed and filmed, and definitely entertaining to watch.

Wake Wood is an extremely accomplished film. Stylish and atmospheric with an ambient appropriate background score it establishes a clear identity early on and despite two distinct narrative transformations never loses it. All the main actors do an exemplary job portraying very believable characters dealing with extremely harrowing and difficult emotions and at no point are you ever pulled out the world McCarthy and Keating have created. Yes one does have to let oneself flow with it and not ask too many questions but the film makes this remarkably easy to do. The story flows gently but without strain and the underlying tension is allowed to build at its own pace. A unique film; perhaps not strictly zombie, but of genre interest, memorable and thought provoking, 7/10.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Small Miracle - début novella

Now one of the other reasons I've been quiet is I've finally put the finishing touches to something I mostly wrote a year ago. In truth I'd finished 99% of it but you know how it is; feelings of discomfort and doubt took hold and I held off actually releasing it.

Still. Here we are and I am proud to announce the launch of my début novella. I learnt a lot from writing it and hope to utilise all that should I decide to do it again, which is a hope. (Depends how many 1 star reviews I get!)

"Small Miracle is the haunting story of a father and his young daughter who wake alone and frightened in a world laid waste. Relying on each other theirs is the journey of survival and extreme isolation where their love, trust and reliance for each other help them find sanctuary, solace and even hope despite the odds. A post apocalyptic story for those with heart.

A novella."

Anyway, it's cheap, 99c, 77p so you really don't have an excuse at least to read the first page then skim. Thanks to all my friends and family for support.

Also, yes, there are zombies in it, kind of; you'll have to see!


Thursday, 2 January 2014

Absence and Zombicide

Apologies for my absence. I've been taking a Christmas break and playing a lot of Zombicide!

For those that don't know it's a 'family' ahem, friendly cooperative board game which pits a team of up to six against an ever increasing undead assault. It's bloody great and recommended!

Steven & Daughter @WTD.