Thursday, 18 September 2014

Aaah! Zombies!! (Wasting Away) - review

2007 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

Writer and director Sean Kohnen's Aaah! Zombies!! (aka Wasting Away) is film built on a single quirk. It's an inventive, imaginative quirk allowing for some brilliant scenes and set pieces; it drives the action, it dictates the humour and it also, almost manages to sustain momentum the whole ninety minutes without get boring. Playful with the zombie medium Kohnen's take is unorthodox and unusual but respectful, and though not particularly funny, or scary, or atmospheric relying solely on the twist this is most definitely still a zombie film, and one that's well worth watching.

I'd better explain what the 'thing' is. In full on The Return of the Living Dead parody mode a bungled experimental super-soldier zombie chemical transportation goes wrong, the hazardous serum ending up mixed in some beer flavoured super soft ice-cream and yadda yadda yadda zombies. This isn't all that interesting, but what is, is everything during the set-up is presented in black and white with the green of the serum the only colour, Schindler's List style. Pulling himself up from the floor Tim (Michael Grant Terry) and his three co-conspirators with the colourful green serum now coursing figuratively through their now coloured bodies are now in Oz and empowered with their own shared reality. The use of colour, for Kohnen becomes the defining metaphor of juxtaposing how those that have taken the serum perceive the world, with those who haven't. In the black and white 'real' world Tim, Mike (Matthew Davis), Vanessa (Julianna Robinson) and Cindy (Betsy Beutler) are perceived as ponderous decaying gut munchers, but in their shared world, presented in full on Technicolour they are still cognisant, compassionate and unaware of their external appearance.

It's a powerful imaginative idea and works if one doesn't think too hard about it. In their reality nothing has really changed, they can talk, laugh, feel though they may be starting to display some unusual traits and appetites. In the other reality they're incomprehensible, macabre, indestructible; zombies and it's speed, specifically their lack of, that becomes the defining characteristic and the butt of the humour. 'Real', non-infected people appear sped up in movement and speech, and with the camera switched to black and white so we're looking at them as everyone else would the group are full on Romero lurchers. Which perspective / reality is the true one? It doesn't really matter; all that does is the back and forth play when the perspectives do clash.

Despite the inventiveness of the contrast, the actual set pieces and jokes do all too often feel a little laboured or obvious. The guy who's so drunk he can actually communicate with the zombies is a fun throw away idea but to not only repeat the joke but make it the centre of an important ten minute sequence two thirds of the way through has the feel of a writer struggling for ideas and this is the films main problem. I never felt Kohnen fully knew what to do with the great set up he'd come up with; the narrative jump to survival action, zombie-rights three quarters of the way through is most indicative of this. 

We're not talking big budget so constant contradictions like background noises being the right (or wrong) depending on perspective speed I was happy to let slide even though they were a little distracting. My biggest grumble was the back and fro regarding the groups conscience. We're supposed to go with the fact that even though to the rest of the world they appear as gut-munching zombies they're really still the same people with empathy and compassion, and their behaviour, dialogue and even the whole ending of the film relies on this. Yet, there's also times, usually implied and off camera, they do actually go full zombie with all the cannibalistic slaughter, gouging and gut munching their appearance assumes. I think we're supposed to either suspend disbelief or assume death comes with a loss of guilt and remorse; but it's never particularly fleshed and it all feels a incongruous.

Narrative to one side, the whole self-aware, compassioned, autonomous beings on one level, ponderous, flesh hungry groaners on another idea is presented and fashioned well. They are zombies. They're dead, they need severe head trauma to really stop them and they like brains. There's some more The Return of the Living Dead homage, playing with body part reanimation. In colour they not really zombies at all, more people who happen to be without pulse and a taste for things they shouldn't. Whether black and white or not things always look good and the film has been put together well, effects are strong and make-up realistic. Ok, the bodiless head is a bit slid into place, but it doesn't spoil things. One last thought. Going by my definition which equates zombie with deadness, irrespective of pulse, perhaps they're not actually zombies at all as they are still self-aware and autonomous? I'm in a pickle to be honest, though as it's mainly down to me over complicating things I'll move along, and I did say it was just a thought...

"The most unique zombie flick I've seen', is one of the choice quotes on the cover and breaking with tradition which says one can't agree with anything if it's in big letters on the front of a DVD, especially a low budget zombie one, this time I think I might make an exception. The narrative as a whole may well not live up to the premise and some scenes feel laboured but there's enough jokes and ideas to keep things fresh and entertaining throughout. The romance such as there is adds to the cocktail but this is no Warm Bodies which I'll will add shares more than one idea with this earlier film. I'll finish by adding the acting is well above what one would expect from a low budget piece, especially from the four leads, and the pacing is good with the film flowing by quite nicely. It's unusual, quirky and fun and for all my complaints I really quite enjoyed it, even though I feel it's been made in a way that makes it far too easy to dismember, 6/10.



  1. I'd been doing the zombie shuffle past this one on Netflix for a long while. I was unaware of the movie's structural conceit, though, which intrigues me. Great review.

    1. Cheers Brandon. It's a good little idea and a fun watch, just don't expect too much.