Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Dead Meat - review

2004 (Ireland)

Contains spoilers.

'Old O'Conner had a farm, ee-i-ee-o, and on that farm he had some cows ee-i-ee-o. With a mooeerrgghhhh mooeerrgghhhhhere here, a mooeerrgghhhh mooeerrgghhhh there. Here a mooeerrgghhhh, there a mooeerrgghhhh, everywhere a mooeerrgghhhh mooeerrgghhhh. Old O'Conner had a farm, ee-i-ee-o.' Zombie cows eh, that's a new one, and yes it sounds ridiculous, hell, it is ridiculous, but at least it gives debut Director / Writer Conor McMahon's otherwise rather samey low budget bland zombie Night of the Living Dead remake, something unique that one will remember it by.

Mad Cow Disease or Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a rather nasty neurodegenerative disease that came to wide spread attention in the eighties, especially in the UK after some bright spark thought the best way to feed cows on the cheap was to offer them the culinary delight that was the brains and spinal cords of cows that may or may not be already infected. Anyway, after 180,000 infected, a cull of 4.4 million and the meat entering the human food chain, mutating into Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and killing 177, farmers decided that maybe they should stick to grass.

So what does this have to do with Dead Meat? Well, Dead Meat in a playful twist on real life events, has cows rather than stagger about dumbly as their brains turn to mush, instead turn into homicidal bovine butcherers hell bent on rampaging across the green fields of County Leitrim, Ireland, looking for people to bite and spread the epizootic-love too. Dead Meat is also a clever play on words to both point to the dead meat fed to the cows in the first place, and the state couple Helena (Marián Araújo) and Martin (David Ryan) and the scant other survivors find themselves in, as they battle to stay one step ahead of the ever increasing horde / herd.

One has to always frame reviews of film projects such as this in context. Financed in part by an Irish Film Board grant, it was filmed in just three weeks under frugal conditions making use of the production crew's own vehicles and sets and reliant on the good nature of locals who agreed to act as last minute extras. What I'm saying is, it was never going to be able to directly compete production wise, with the many million dollar franchises I've also reviewed. But the one thing independent films like this do have in their favour is the ability to be highly original, so the fact other than having zombie cows, it's all rather formulaic, is a disappointment.

On the one hand, like I said, we have a fairly safe Irish take on Night of the Living Dead; a couple get lost, the girl gets away and is harried across the countryside by an ever increasing undead presence until she meets up with a few other survivors before we have the big  final siege. It's well shot, pretty well acted and competently put together with some real attention to spice things up with gnarly bits of Fulci-esque gore-porn and pulls off the remake. On the other hand it tries a bit too hard at times to be a bit Evil Dead with dark and zany elaborate kills that just end up feeling out of place, and an odd-ball couple who feel like they've just dropped in straight from the set of Father Ted. The humour just never really gels with the competent little survival horror idling along in the background, taking over scenes and detracting from the flow.

This identity crisis travels over into the zombies themselves. The first gut muncher we come across is traditional picture perfect. He gets run over, his pulse is clearly marked as past-tense, he rises again devoid of humanity and takes a bite. The second however is a little more refined. He can wield a weapon, use a tool to break down a door and knows enough to stand on a hand to keep his victim in place, while he un-sticks said weapon to take another swipe. He's more homicidal crazy with a modicum of self-awareness and intelligence than primal gut muncher, as are the weapon wielding Irish-hill-billies that suddenly come tumbling into the arena to join the chase. And it's like this through the film, one minute it's a Romero plodder slowly and inevitably closing in, the next it's a screaming gurgling crazy (who might not actually be dead). Add to this the hint that the cows may actually be some kind of bovine-puppet-masters with the ability to organise the infected to group and attack en masse and we're left with an enemy that feels a bit thrown together at the last minute; I should add they look that way too.

A bit of a confused mess Conor McMahon's film making and core narrative do manage to salvage the film enough to be above the usual mediocre low budget zombie cash-ins. It's not a film I could hand on heart ever recommend, but if you happen to find it on and can't be bothered to stretch for the remote to find something else, rest assured you will be entertained, the action is well scripted, the gore and effects show attention to detail, the acting is solid and there are more than a few moments that will stick in your head once the credits roll. An unspectacular amateur action / horror, Dead Meat is overall okay, and sometimes that's enough - 4/10.


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