Friday, 4 November 2016

Shatter Dead - review

1994 (USA)

Contains spoilers.
If you can get past the grainy visuals, the deliberate slow pacing, the stilted, and I'm being polite, acting, grandiose pretension and all that comes from a budget I can't imagine was more than the cost of a cup of coffee, then there's something to be said for director / writer / producer Scooter McCrae's high concept zombies with a twist debut movie. It's a big if though. Winner of best independent film at the 1995 Fantafestival, Shatter Dead is not a family and friends, beer and nachos zombie film, nor is it a hide by the sofa gripping teddy or anything close; it's a film to grow a goatee, eat cheese and drink expensive wine too, all the while nodding along though you're really only vaguely following. There's no doubting, in my mind, there's some quite clever and thought provoking stuff going on with post-life immortality, existential nihilism, modernistic ennui all stirred up with Christianity and God's final judgement, but I also have a feeling all I'm really going to recall a year or so from now is that leading actress Susan (Stark Raven) was naked a lot.

Susan is trying to get home. That much I did work out. Her problems however, seem to stem not just from the fact that the dead are no longer staying dead, but that they seem to be really into car-jacking. So with her car and shopping taken, she does what all young women do when offered assistance by a passing stranger, she checks whether he's breathing with a small mirror and after confirming he's not, beats him into submission and steals his vehicle in return. The world McCrae has fashioned is quite the dark and odd one. It's 17 months since 'The Angel of Death', at least that's what she's called on the back cover, came down, had sex with a woman (yes both women, though the Angel was definitely the dom) and ushered in a new age where the dead just don't die. Other than that, they're still people; cognisant, able to talk, drive, work, but also seemingly downtrodden and destitute very much like an untouchable caste with little to no rights. Before Susan stumbles her way back home to boyfriend Dan (Daniel Johnson) her journey takes her to a doss house where she meets undead Mary, naked in the shower no less, into the path of a gang of new order gun freaks who commit quite the bloody massacre, and also inwards, as she's forced to confront her own prejudice and ideals.

I'm not really sure what all of it means, though after watching a short making of documentary on the DVD I'm convinced that while a lot of the ambiguity was by design, there was an equal, if not larger quantity that came from production not matching story-board so I probably didn't stand a chance. The world is broken and with death no longer an objective position people, both sides of fence, are confused and are all looking for answers as to what to do. That's the question McCrae is fundamentally exploring and though the film stumbles incoherently with a narrative that leaves a lot to be desired he does manage to transfer some of the characters existential turmoil to the viewer, and also thoughtfully touch on many of the ramifications that would no doubt ensue. 

Whilst definitely dead I'm not sure I'd call them zombies. I'm inverted to the position I often find myself where I'm arguing the case that just because a particularly rabid / uncontrolled / mindless zombie-esque human (ala 28 Days Later) still has a pulse it doesn't mean they're not eligible to be called one. Here they're just as human as before, albeit without as said, respiratory, cardiovascular or digestive systems. They don't bite, don't desire human flesh and ok, they're at times rather macabre and foul looking, cursed for eternity with their scars from life and how they died, but they seem just as interested in answers to why this all happened as the living. If anything it's the living, especially Susan that seems the aggressor, more than happy to fire a bullet or bludgeon a pretty young face at the slightest provocation. Again though, I think that's the point.

It's hard to be honest, to see past the obvious problem zero budget and ten days shooting obviously caused. The story too is presented in an artsy, laboured and minimalist way that's deliberately obtuse and difficult to follow. I'll hold my hands up too; I wasn't on board to begin, struggling with the amateurish production and the strained, incoherent narrative. Then as the story, and Susan's relationships became more abstract, hazy and uncomfortable I replaced thoughts about the obvious failings with wider more expansive and questioning ones, as one should when confronted with any existential cinematic art. Considered as art too benefits McCrae when it comes to the copious and full frontal nudity and even the blurred pistol penetration which was cut from my UK release copy (it's 20 or so seconds that doesn't effect the film and can easily be found on-line), which I'd consider all a tad excessive and extraneous otherwise. Ultimately though this is a film that will divide and certainly won't be even palatable by most, though especially by anyone wanting any kind of entertaining experience; which sure as eggs is eggs this isn't. Taken as moustache twizzling edgy mixed bag of existential angst though; and taken as a home movie / art project without any and all frills and refinement, it's worth seventy minutes of your time, but don't say you've not been warned - 5/10.


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