Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Dead 2: India - review

2013 (UK)

Contains spoilers.

The Ford brothers, Howard J. and Jon, have a lot to be proud of with this sequel to their ambitious 2010 African zombie romp. Sumptuous cinematography, confident production and acting, a gritty, serious Romero-esque narrative and effective gore and effects; there's a very good, and earnest zombie film here, acknowledging budgetary constraints of course. Things start really well too; a polished intro sequence bathes us in the extraordinary colour and culture of this mystical South Eastern country juxtaposing shots that show the deep divisions and extreme poverty it also faces. There's a delightful score by Imran Ahmad, some nifty camera work and a seamless transfer from the first film as we learn Africa is now overrun, and the zombie virus may have reached Indian shores. It's nigh on perfect.

Nicholas Burton (Joseph Millson), an American electrical engineer is weeks from completing his wind turbine contract. Five hours from Mumbai and the new love of his life, Ishani Sharma (Meenu Mishra) he's a hundred or so metres up in the air, finishing his job for the day, when he decides to call her. Now most zombie films believe in build up; yes, some can readily be accused of dragging the whole pre-apocalypse thing out but it's generally accepted that there would be more than a few minutes between a guy stumbling off a cargo ship with a nasty bite, and vast swatches of the rural population staggering around looking for people to eat. Unless I've missed something of course, but I don't think there's an Omni-present malevolent being or ancient evil, what with the total reliance and implication it's all down to an infection spread through biting. The Dead suffered the same problems. Great set-up, stunning cinematography, etc, but some choice decisions that just lessened its credibility and left immersion wanting.

Romero championed the idea of zombies as a relentless tide, and peoples inevitable and eventual succumbing to it. Zombies were slow, they were in individually ineffectual, their strength coming from their number and persistence. Whilst the Ford brothers have perfectly captured the relentless threat, with Nicholas and companion constantly on edge and weary from the onslaught, I'm yet again faced with feelings of incredulity. It's one thing to have an ever increasing horde approach a large American mall, it's another to have a dozen or so undead, magically appear in deepest rural India, even if I'm reminded that it is the second most populous country in the world. I noted with the first film that the Ford's only run two states, set-upon and nearly set-upon. Where ever they are, whatever they're doing, whether they're on their own, when they get there, it's guaranteed the moment they sit down a zombie will appear in shot. I'd like to say again, there's some external force drawing the undead to the living, and it certainly feels that way, but I'm starting to think it might just an anxiety that should there be five minutes without some zombie action it'll be called boring or lazy film making to ensure a reason for the heroes to move on to the next scene. If The Dead 3: was on the Moon I wouldn't be surprised if Ford brothers managed to see it running amok with gut munchers.

It's a road movie to get to the one he loves, and moving, from scene to scene, location to location, is what the film ultimately is all about. On the way he picks up a companion, the young Anand Krishna Goyal as Javed, he rescues people, he shoots people, he kills a lot of zombies, he hears stories, has dreams and it's good stuff; interesting, eventful and well-shot but one can't shake off the feeling it's all mostly superfluous. For all that happens nothing really does; the journey is kind of inevitable because he has to keep moving, the deeper plot turns don't quite have the impact you feel they ought to, and the constant imminent threat dissipates as you realise Nicholas has become impervious to all attempted zombie attacks.

Nicholas, who reminded me of Chris Redfield by the end is the luckiest man alive. If it was you or I close to but one dead-eyed zombie there would be but one outcome. Nicholas? Doesn't' matter how many have gotten as close as to have their grubby mitts on him, he'll be able to shrug them off. I understand the hero has to survive but some of his encounters, when side-by-side with the periphery free-for-all are downright condescending; though I guess having a limitless-ammo gun helps, despite several earlier narrative plays that ammo is a scarce resource. The main reason he needs these hero status survival skills though may well be because of his immense lack of luck with that rarest of commodity in the zombie apocalypse, a motorised vehicle that works. Whether they meant it to become a comedic theme, whether it was the gyro-copter crash, the bike being stolen, the car falling off a cliff, or his five second late arrival at the rescue 'copter headed exactly where he wanted to go, I started to look forward to his next plane, train or automobile moment.

Look; nit-picking aside, The Dead 2: India is a sumptuous visual treat with great acting, and is a good zombie film. Whilst I'll level the same complaints to this as the last, I'll also promote all that is good with the film. It's sincere, it's realistic with its goals and it's entirely competent, and a big step above a lot of serious low budget zombie endeavours. A respectful good old fashioned Romero inspired zombie story - 6/10.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Gangsters, Guns & Zombies - review

2012 (UK)

Contains spoilers.

I'm not really sure what director and writer (along with Taliesyn Mitchell) Matt Mitchell was going for with this low budget Reservoir Dogs meets the undead shindig. It's not funny, it's not scary, the little action there is half-hearted and never satisfying; and inherently dislikeable, obnoxious, one dimensional caricatures don't generally make for a good character drama, which is what, if I'm forced to say, I think best describes it. It's also another good cover and title, and yet more deceit to win over the TWD generation; though 'six tedious men drive round for an hour talking shit' I guess wouldn't have sold as many copies.

Boom! They've robbed a bank, one guy has been shot and they're making their escape across London. Boom! It's the undead apocalypse; zombie hordes roam the streets; society is collapsing and hell has come to Earth. Boom? All the five remaining east-end goons can do is whitter on about shiny shoes, the sat-nav and getting to the safe house with their ill-gotten gains, with scant regard for the zombies knocking at their window. Maybe they were as bored with the laboured, stifled and awkward dialogue and banter as we ultimately got to be, but the set-up for more than just a drawn out road movie is there.

There is a big zombie problem and Mitchell goes to great lengths to ensure both we know, and that we know that they know. Whether the dry radio exposition, always perfectly timed, or highly contrived, tortured and entirely superfluous zombie shorts, that include clowns, a bride and groom, medieval knights, kids or amateur football team, that accompany the van on its meander; the larger apocalypse is restated over and over. This is it; end of the world stuff and yet it's all such a tedious and seemingly inconsequential affair and not worthy of much more than cursory recognition; there's the group in the van, and the world outside, and trivial interaction. Even the road offer no resistance, what with everyone else conveniently deciding to stay indoors.

Dare I say it, the film does pick up after an hour or so when the confines of the van are finally ditched and half the cast is replaced by a girl and her gun toting grandmother. It's also saying a lot, that this alone managed to breathe some life into the soulless mish-mash of half-hearted ideas that constituted a narrative. That there's actually some chemistry between the final four only demonstrates just how bad it was before the cull; and just how baffling Mitchell et al. didn't pick up on it earlier and radically alter things.

It's the derivative zombie outbreak painfully clarified and explained. Blood, bites, brains, head-shots, a virus with the sprinkle of something darker. It's 2012 too so expect fast 28 Days Later zombies, snarling and ready to bite with their five second made-up red smeared mouths. The extras do as good as job as one would probably expect though there's always the one, you know, the one with his hands in his pockets off to the side, or the one who looks briefly at the camera, or the one that's just not as in to it as the rest, and they do distract. There's also, as budget probably dictated, quite a lot of off-screen slaughter with thrown in blood and crunching sounds offered more in hope than belief.

Gangster, Guns & Zombies just never gets going. A lethargic ponderous little drama, with odious caricatures and forced dialogue it's a film that is truly hard to recommend. Whilst there are little moments that shine, they're so sporadic and so short-changed they're engulfed by the large swathes of monotonous filler that dominates. When all is said and done, all one will remember Gangster, Guns & fucking Zombies for is the rampant use of foul language, presumably because there's a belief all cockneys treat expletives as mandatory adverbs, and because, for an hour and a half, absolutely nothing happens. Go watch Cockneys vs Zombies instead - 3/10


Saturday, 5 December 2015

Zombie Driller Killer (Dark Souls) - review

2010 (Norway / France)

Contains spoilers.

The 2010 Norwegian film Dark Souls, subsequently re-released as Zombie Driller Killer no doubt to take advantage of new tidal wave of zombie affection, is a dark, macabre, brooding tight little budget horror competently made and acted with some delightful little scenes. It's also a rather hard one to review for as much as I respect what director and writers César Ducasse, Mathieu Peteul have put together it really does fail to hold up to any serious scrutiny in any way, with a narrative full of suspect decisions, and an explanation and ending that unravels just when it should be delivering.

I feel some clarity is needed. The driller killers(s - as we later discover) are a group of orange jump-suit Jason wannabes that have set siege to Oslo; jumping unsuspecting passers-by, drilling into their skulls and implanting something that leaves them, albeit after a small period of deadness, vegetative black bile spewing degenerates. These zombies of the piece are for the vast majority exactly this. Sickly with epileptic seizures, neurological disorientation and fast growing cancerous metastasis that's spreading through their central nervous system; the only dangers they present is someone slipping on their spewed bile or tripping over them as they lay lifeless and in the way.

There's none of the usual biting, chasing or gut ripping; the protagonist of the film is the driller killer and he's real, alive and a tangible target for both police and wannabe super sleuth. Johanna Ravn (Johanna Gustavsson) is victim number one and her gruesome (though off camera) end sets the narrative on its way not only for her sub-story focus that sees her slow macabre transformation, but also for her father, Morten Ravn (Morten Rudå), old and portly, single father, music teacher and unlikely hero of the hour. Not only faced with twenty-four hour care of a vegetative daughter who is constantly oozing black bile, he has also decided to take it upon himself to investigate the ever increasing number of attacks and track down the culprit.

There's a patch some one hour in, a five minute interruption where the vegetative rise from their beds and set upon the living, and it's good; I mean really good with tension, horror and an eerie unnatural atmosphere that Fulci would be proud of. Yet that's it. The first hour is the double investigative story, on Johanna and by Morten, and even the final twenty minutes when one thinks, with the zombies out of the closet so to speak, things are likely to get undead and spicy, it again slides back to Morten just running about an industrial factory from semi-zombie henchmen armed all armed with varyingly sized drills; obviously compensating for something. All this build up isn't bad per se; it's a tad meandering but fairly interesting in an x-files investigative drama kind of way. The problem is one of believability and I just never truly bought into the podgy cello teacher as entrepreneurial investigator, never mind swashbuckling hero. And it's not the only inconsistency I found in the story; from a random homeless man happening to know the origin story for the whole oil-based zombie death cult, Morten happening across the driller killers' lair, or the fact that despite the whole city being on lock-down because orange jump suit mask wearing maniacs were drilling all indiscriminately, they were able and quite happy to drive around in broad daylight without garnering any attention. Oh, and we're also supposed to buy into a totally incompetent police force… okay, this one's not so hard.

The driller killers are kind of zombies too though they're more chosen tier one zombies, and not the fetid oil oozing mindless tier two drones that make up their victims. All identically donned, they might be unselective in who they attack, but they're very focused on how. Under orders, control or necessity they jump a victim, drill into the cranium, suck something out then push something in, all for the 'old man' (Gustav-Adolf Hegh) who lives atop the factory rewarding them for their work with a sip of the old black stuff. The origin story, which we learn, conveniently from a chance encounter, is one of a deep oil well and drill (spot the clever parallel) and a mysterious evil let into the world, but beyond this I'll be fucked if I know what's going on. What they're extracting from people, what are they putting back in, why they're doing it, who the 'old man' really is and what his motives are? It's some ancient evil, something to do with hydrocarbons, life and oil and I think the total subjugation of mankind.

An interesting hour and a half, and whilst not convinced at all by zombie driller killer I've certainly had less celluloid fun. The investigative pacing was intriguing and Johanna's degenerative journey enthralling. Some choice decisions aside, introducing the zombies earlier, then seeing through their promise and I think Ducasse and Peteul could have produced that most rare of undead beasts, a budget zombie film that's interesting, original and intelligent. As it is though, zombie driller killer just makes too many wrong turns to off-set all it does get right - 5/10.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

[REC]⁴ Apocalypse - review

2014 (Spain)

Contains spoilers.

So the sequel we've all been waiting for? Back to tight and claustrophobic, to demonic ravenous inhuman zombies, to intense jumps and scares, and to Director Jaume Balagueró, and Manuela Velasco reprieving her central role as investigative reporter, sole survivor, eye candy and where we left her, newly appointed harbinger of death and disease to all of mankind Ángela Vidal. But what about [REC]³? There's no blatant pretence that it didn't happen; there's definite reference to Paco Plaza's slightly lighter, more flippant and expansive wedding shenanigans, but we're under no illusion that back with Balagueró, it's directly back to [REC] and [REC]² both in storyline and a more serious and sombre tone and demeanour.

I personally liked [REC]³. Ok, it was definitely quite the departure from its predecessors and by trying to be a bit more adventurous and accessible, dallying with humour and romance, it certainly lost that aura of stupefying dread and unnatural trepidation that the series had cemented as its own. Yet we can't forget that after the rather weary and formulaic [REC]² the series was in serious danger of falling down to staleness before it had even stretched its legs, and at least [REC]³ injected a shot of adrenalin. [REC]⁴ is back to the formula; the quarantined Barcelona apartment block is now a cranky old tanker far out to sea, the situation the crew find themselves in, full of questions and uncertainty, and once the maelstrom hits, both literally and metaphorically, things descend once again and very quickly to jumps, scares and lots of brutal carnage and dying.

The third person camera has quietly and without fuss, been retained from [REC]³, with no attempt to try and force a narrative that dictates a camera should be kept rolling under the most bewildering of circumstances. [REC]² ended with Ángela receiving the Medeiros slug unbeknown to her SWAT team rescuers, and [REC]⁴ follows straight from this with her transfer to the isolated remote tanker to be prodded and probed by a medical team lead by Dr. Ricarte (Héctor Colomé). Whilst there's nothing too original to the breakout and slide into pandemonium story on offer, Balagueró does manage to recapture that original [REC] mood and tone. The narrative too, flows coherently providing that all important immersive foundation that allows for the intense cat and mouse chases, the desperate backed into the corner fights and frantic decision making, to be exploited with conviction and investment.

The zombies of [REC] don't hold back. Frenetic, vicious, hungry, they're the definition of dangerous. A bite, or ingestion of contaminated flesh and the transition from healthy human to blood crazed maniac is total and quick. They're fast too; 28 Days Later fast, with none of that Romero or The Walking Dead slowness, ponderous or weakness. It doesn't take a horde to present a real problem, just the one, and if not ready with an automatic weapon and a few mates, I'd say the odds of meeting one's grizzly gut ripping end is all but certain. There also seems to be more emphasis on infection, the parasite, death and dare I say it more traditional zombie story, than the religious and ambiguously supernatural preoccupation of the previous outings, and this does somewhat serve to lessen the foreboding atmosphere. The objective is still horror and it still all works, but it's all rather action-horror than unnatural horror-horror, and it's a little bit of a shame. The slimy Medeiros Wrath of Kahn ear-slug alike, just isn't quite up there with eerie, shadowy, spindly and utterly other-worldly Medeiros girl, and the zombies too, are always now kind of where they ought to be, or where they were left, rather than popping up discordantly.

It is a return to the original, it is still a well fashioned roller coaster ride of terror, and yes it's clear the director and team have learnt a lot over the years with a feature richer and more polished. Yet possibly this extra shine; the clearer, less ambiguous narrative and traditional third person [REC]³ camera work, has all somewhat helped to take that something away that made the first truly and astoundingly edgy, and unnerving. [REC] embodied shock and unpredictability and [REC]⁴ is perhaps just that bit too safe; too obvious. It's also all rather disappointing as a conclusion to the enthralling and baffling four part escapade, neither providing any real or satisfying answers, nor any ambiguous or jaw dropping nuke to ponder; the final five minutes rather a damp squib than an edifying bowing out. All this aside, [REC]⁴ is a great zombie horror film, with suspenseful and shocking scenes, some great zombie carnage and pulse pounding action; I just can't help but come away feeling a little short-changed - 7/10.