Friday, 17 June 2016

Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante (Mutant Zone) - review

2001 (Argentina)

Contains mild spoilers.

I was rather smitten with director, writer and co-star Pablo Parés and Hernán Sáez's 1997 extremely low budget zombie original. Energetic, vibrant, imaginative Plaga Zombie, transl. Zombie Plague, overflowed with everything you'd want in in an excessive bad taste non-serious zombie spectacular, and I felt Parés and Sáez should be damned proud of their first full film. With double the budget ($3000), and with all the issues they had (it took them 4 years from starting the project to get it out with all involved saying it took its toll), could they have done it again, retaining the same frenetic pace, obvious enthusiasm and authentic delight that spilled out and into those lucky enough to watch something, shall we say, less mainstream first time round? I'll cut to the chase; yes they bloody could and it was worth the pain.

Mutant Zone not only picks the story, what there was of it, up right where things were left, but also the excessive riotous tour-de-force and non stop barrage of the most putrid, gory, juvenile, imaginative and silly zombie killing ever put on screen. Nothing has changed; nothing has calmed down. It's still prosthetic madness with models and masks, buckets of fake blood; guts and spines, limbs and heads all audaciously ripped, pulled and hewn apart at every turn. As with all good Dead Alive (BrainDead) splatter comedies it's disgusting, it's dark, but it's also so excessive, so over the top it, it all becomes a spectacle; a hyper-real parody you feel your allowed to join in with. Each more and more audaciously silly kill is the joke that keeps on giving; and this is something I feel outsiders to the genre often overlook, but one Parés and Sáez have perfected; and I don't think at any point in the film I actually stopped smiling.

What of the story? Mutant Zone doesn't take itself too, or I should say, at all seriously. There's a small daft opening bit of narrative where we learn aliens are actually behind the whole thing. That they've done a deal to experiment in one small area so as to not take over the entire world,.and our heroes from the previous film, Bill (Parés), the giant cowboy ex-wrestler John West (Berta Muñiz) and Max (Sáez) find themselves unfortunate loose threads in the conspiracy. What it means is they've been summarily thrown back into to the now quarantined town without weapons or any idea as to what's really going on, there's a lot of zombies out to get them and before the hour and half are through there will be a lot running, a lot of killing and a lot of fun, if little deep or contemplative narrative.

What stops Mutant Zone from being the one trick pony, and what ultimately keeps it from outstaying it's welcome, despite, if being critical, that it is and on paper it shouldn't, is the constant imagination. For a film that is fundamentally one long chase broken up now and again with the odd skirmish, that there isn't a single trite or obvious story decision, line of dialogue, or angle  of shot is breath-taking. Each and every extravagant, and ridiculous fight, or each moment between, is out to trick and surprise you and it's a delightful ride to sit back and enjoy being on. For Parés and Sáez nothing too is off the table, too off-the wall, or even subtle or surreal; and yet it all fits, the film is cohesive with a singular identity.

It's the same trick with the zombies. Black, white, green and blue, Plaga zombies can be any hue, any level of decay, any level of mutation and any level one of many observable behavioural patterns or any combination between. Yet they're all brought together by the same undeniable level of zany fun and comic-book look and feel where perhaps having a budget where one couldn't dictate all and every minutia actually helped. It's like the traditional zombie idiom of distinct and unique individuals becoming a homogenised one is non-applicable. Here the undead each have clear and discrete character and dare I say personality which even lends itself to how they're ultimately and individually dispatched. Later we also discover they're not perhaps as one-sidedly cannibalistic as we thought, as social aspects are offered and explored. It all makes for quite the rich tapestry and quite the out the box thinking perhaps allowed when youth and inexperience take nothing off the table.

I could wax-lyrically about Mutant Zone all day. Perhaps one the best comedy splatter zombie films ever made there is so much honesty, verve and passion on play one can't help but be swept up in it all. Parés, Muñiz and Sáez also almost make the film a buddy one with on screen relationships that feel authentic and tangible, with a depth and warmth that permeates even the coldest of hearts. So could they deliver a sequel? Could they. Plaga Zone: Mutant Zone is Plaga Zombie unleashed oozing increased confidence, greater ambition and given the means to demonstrate with a larger sandbox, more time and more resources to play with. An absolute delight from start to finish you owe it to yourself to get on-board especially with a third instalment, Plaga Zombie: Zona Mutante: Revolución Tóxica, and even fourth American Invasion, sitting in the wings - 9/10.


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