Friday, 22 January 2016

Extinction: The G.M.O. Chronicles - review

2011 (Germany)

Contains mild spoilers.

A cross between the character driven soap opera that is The Walking Dead, the prosaic long-winded survival yawn that was Autumn (Dead Men Walking) and the highly-stylised, highly-imaginative but audaciously preposterous Resident Evil franchise, Extinction: The G.M.O. Chronicles, is not for the faint of heart. By that, I don't mean it's a non-stop pulsating adrenalin fuelled roller coaster of terror, with excessive gore and sadistic shock; in fact quite the opposite. Writer and co-director Niki Drozdowski's zombie opus is so ambitiously and mundanely epic that unless you're the sort who's happy to sit down for the best part of two hours for full-on zombie survival indulgence; as Joe Averages bumble between fights, cheer each other up, and work out where to put the new sofa, then I could easily see you bailing out before it gets going (which it never really does). Make no mistake, this is a film for post-apocalyptic zombie lovers and absolutely no one else; and I mean no-one. Whilst at a stretch Zombie Flesh Eaters might pull some b-movie nostalgia strings on a date; though still risky, Extinction would be a guaranteed way to have the evening end with you as alone as star of show Tom Keller (Daniel Buder) also pondering how it all went so wrong.

This is the story of surviving when pretty much everyone has either died or turned. And I'd add we're not talking The Walking Dead; we're talking a total world-wide pathogen and extinction level event, 0.00001%, I Am Legend, hope you're an introvert and comfortable with your own company level shit. An engineered virus developed by Toonsman Industries (anagram of Monsanto) called Ranch Hand has gone rogue evolving past it's shut-off inhibitors and jumped species, turning all but the very few immune into vacant shells of their former selves and hungry for human flesh. Things aren't good; I'd even say things are positively very bad; though fortunately Tom has a few things going for him. One he's ex-special forces, two he used to play at an abandoned, though well-fortified army base that's nearby, as a child, and he knows it intimately, and three he had his wits enough about him to get there unscathed, armed with a gun, satellite phone and laptop. His good fortune also continues as rather then ending things rather than face a lifetime alone, he decides to see it out, and is rewarded on day 14 on a run to get supplies, having already acquired food, water and generator, to find three  survivors one of whom is a hot-chick (Luise Bähr as Lisa Sattler), and one of whom is an American NSA agent with a contact who knows a bit more about what's going on.

Extinction isn't the awful story of being forced to scavenge and scrap over the few scant provisions that are left, of hiding silently for weeks in small claustrophobic holes, and learning to collect rain water in your underpants. Everyone's dead so there's food, there's tins, water, chocolate bars, there's police stations with guns; there's everything you really need to live quite the comfortable, if rustic life, especially as said, if you happen to occupy a remote double fenced and expansive army base. It's also all easy to get because the walker zombies don't actually come out at night; well they do, but they're in sleep mode and easily navigated around.

Extinction has a single pace that is measured and methodical. The four survivors eventually becomes five, then seven, there's some internal conflict, then they're forced to leave, then there's a rescue, some fights, a damn, then a final castle siege. Extinction could be labelled pedestrian, measured, dare I say tedious, but one thing it can't be called it empty, and certainly not badly paced. The reason it's full and not merely a two hour character drama, and also the narrative reason for the group to eventually do something other than cook, jog and think about home improvements is the walker zombies aren't the only threat. Owing something to both Resident Evil's fetish for mutation and Left for Dead's penchant for mixing it up, the walker gang are soon joined by runners, jumpers, then later blind-shriekers and even a big daddy boss. 

Rather than being incoherent and breaking the finely woven world Drozdowski has forged, the additional and increasingly audacious zombie shake up somehow not only slots right in, but feels necessary and inevitable. Each mutation while raising an eyebrow, especially the screamer, is also taken so matter of fact by the now tight-knit survivor group that one can't help going along with it. The action sequences are handled in a similar way. Being chased by twenty runners? Just phone ahead to get people to open the gate, no need to panic. And that lack of threat or urgency transfers to the viewer with a film that while constantly interesting, enthralling almost, maybe could never really be accused of ever exciting. 

Extinction is an A to B movie; there's no narrative circles or satisfying conclusions. It's a budget German Lord of the Rings without Sauron or anyone owning a ring; it's the Walking Dead-lite, yet as said I found the thing all rather charming and engaging, even if it never particularly raised my heart rate. It's also worth noting that the cinematography, shot composition, scripting, and performances are quite faultless and from a directing and production point of view, as a budget movie with big desires it's quite the accomplishment. A hard one to score; 6/10 and do watch; yet on your own.


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