Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Zombie^5

I watch a lot of zombie movies. I didn't realize how many till five queued up in my To Be Written list. Some are good, most are bad. Very very few are great. The genre is mostly played out but it will always linger in the back of the horror genre, at least until The Walking Dead finishes its run. Until then, media will continue to milk its inky black blood.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, 2016, Burr Steers (17 Again) -- download

P&P&Z tackles something most zombie fiction doesn't even attempt to -- what were the creatures before they died / changed and how much of them is left over when they become such? Oddly enough, it is often the comedies that explore this aspect. The serious ones always stick to the unsettling aspects of the horde.

The movie, one that Marmy hates in concept but will never see, comes from the book which is a tongue in cheek retooling of the Jane Austen novel.  It was literally developed title down -- here's the title, write a book for it! Insert zombies & ninjas into the Austen milieux! While definitely full on rotting tongue in decaying cheek, it is a serious movie; not comedy.

Like in World War Z, the apocalypse begins in China. And spreads quickly, on trade ships, around the world. Post war, England has to be ever watchful of another rising and has trained its youth in the art of combat. Wealthy go to Japan, while the middle class only get Chinese training. The poor get eaten.

The movie intertwines the core Austen story with an uglier plot, one where someone wants the rise of the undead to succeed. As I mentioned, the zombies retain their memories and intelligence; they just are overwhelmed by a desire to eat your face and yes, they rot. Some worse than others. Some people believe the undead can be redeemed, through religion or reason. Others believe they are the next step in mankind, and are leading the dead to organize. Thus we get an OK action movie, to foil the evil plot, mixed up with a love story.

Pandemic, 2016, John Suits (The Scribbler) -- download

Meanwhile this gives us just another tired concept zombie flick. The concept at play? The video game motif -- we see everything through helmet cams, all the action at the end of a FPS gun. There's never been a good use of this. I will tell you how well Hardcore Henry does it when I finish watching that movie.

The sub-genre is infection with defined stages. Stage one is common cold-like symptoms; the final stage has a raving eating machine awakening from a death-like coma. There are no walking dead, just people with a disease. This is the most tragic of the zombie sub-genres, as so many have to die just so uninfected humans can stay alive.

This is a terrible movie that badly mixes personal drama (i just want to get back to my daughter!) with... wait, that's not this movie that is the last bad zombie flick I watched, Re-Kill, which also had a tired concept at the core of its plot.  So, this movie IS about personal drama and that's pretty much all. Dr. Lauren, who is really not a doctor at all but someone who stole the credentials of one to join a team, to hunt down her family, sacrifices all of said team (including Alfie Allen, redeemed villain is his schtick now) to reunite with her daughter. Considering she pretty much destroys the protective detail of the place she wants to get her daughter into, there is not very much hope in the end.

I was never sure why the movie spent so much time on the prologue scenes, setting up the stages of infection and some mystery around the final stage. Sure, we get some [REC] style night-vision camera shots of a monstrous final form that sniffs us out, but it's not really at the core of the movie. Other than the title, the pandemic is barely explored. This is the issue of low budget Straight To movies, in that there are ideas but nobody has the money nor the inclination to explore.

And gawds, I hate when the posters have nothing to do with the movie.

[REC] 3: Génesis, 2012, Paco Plaza ([REC]) -- Netflix

Speaking of [REC], I did [REC] 2 back during this blog's first run of 31 Days of Horror.  Paco, co-director along with Jaume Balagueró, did all three movies. The third is considered the "origin" movie, thus the tag Génesis. As in, the genesis of the infection, not biblical reference to Genesis, despite what the character in the movie says. Really, this is more a Revelations thing.

The last movie ended revealing demonic influence on the evil zombie virus thing. It's rather unique in current zombie fiction but was the primary source back in the 80s/90s proto-zombie movies.  At a wedding, inside a walled compound, the infection, or demonic influence, slowly takes over the uncle of bride Clara until the dancing is in full swing. Then he bites another and BOOM, raving, biting, killing monsters in bad wedding attire. There is a mix of the sub-genre -- are they dead or merely infected? Well they are getting their throats torn out, before they turn, so a little of column A and a little of column B ? The fun thing is when you look in the mirror and see demonic, cadaverous creatures!

Yeah, this movie is fun. It tosses the tense, paranoid aspects of the first two movies on its head for a butt-kicking zombie-killing romp, including gearing-up scenes. Clara only wants to be reunited with her new husband Koldo. And no bloody scary wedding attendee will stop her! Chainsaws, swords and guns are picked up and dropped as the two wedded ones, and their tag-along crew of survivors, attempt to reunite. Meanwhile, a priest has discovered if you read prayers over the loud speakers it disables the zombies. Not that it really helps people much, but it does move the plot along and expand on the core conceit of the sub-genre. And, alas, it does not help the two lovers after they find each other.

Cell, 2016, Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2) -- download

This one was based on the only real zombie fiction that Stephen King did, but it approaches the genre in much the same way Guillermo del Toro did vampires -- through the use of a unique viral infection. The virus in question is passed through the cellular network and leaves behind only violent, mindless creatures. King wrote this over ten years ago, just before the era of touch-screen smartphones, but after the full assimilation of cell phones in general. It's not a comment of the overabundance of cellular communication, but a blatant exploitation of the paranoia around it.

The movie follows a handful of survivors, people who were not using their phones at the time the infection was transmitted. Clay Riddell, played by Straight To king John Cusack only wants to get back to his wife & son. We get a typical road story with not so typical infection background material. We also get a muddled ending without any closure.

It's a terrible terrible movie. Cusack and Samuel L Jackson *ahem* phone in their acting and the convoluted & mysterious conspiracy plot by Stephen King is inserted between incredibly boring scenes of people walking in silence or babbling on about stuff we are supposed to care about, but really don't -- character development!  The director almost seemed to think he was directing The Road, but without the great weight of the source material. But are we surprised? There is already a track record of terrible material being spawned from Stephen King books. For every five that are rotten, we get one that is OK and even rarely, a great one.

P.S. What is up with the movie posters? They are all uniformly terrible. And why attack choppers?

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) -- Netflix

Pulling a night of video store movie flipping on Netflix led us to this one, which is weirdly called Scouts vs Zombies on their titling. I guess the actual title is too much of a mouthful? Anywayz, this is mid-budget comedy hinged on the idea that if they are always prepared, are they prepared for the zombie apocalypse? Short answer -- no. They require a butt kicking cocktail waitress in a pushup bra to encourage them.

This is a movie meant for teenage boys. Along with the core idea of long term friendships, there are tons and tons of immature references -- some funny, some cringe worthy but most just *yawn* on the level of fart jokes. The cocktail waitress is supposed to be some sort of empowerment of women comment, but the actress can barely run in her boots and once her shotgun runs out, she depends again on the teen boys. Really, she was just an excuse to look at cleavage. And a pseudo older woman fantasy?

The zombies in question? Boring, run of the mill fast moving, eating machines. Like most of the low grade examples of the genre, they really don't matter, as the are only antagonist fodder around the jokes and action scenes. But the idea that a bunch of teenage boys would have no issues destroying the entire class of bullies gone zombies is worth a smirk or two. At least they do attempt to rescue some of their classmates.

It makes you wonder why I am watching these movies, when I am pretty assured most will be terrible. I guess, even at their worst, I am comfortable enough and familiar with the beats and tropes of the genre. I know the rise of the tension well, and even at their worst, they touch on it. At my core, I am terribly frightened by the horde but aside from The Walking Dead few examples of the genre touch on this horror for me.

Am I looking for jewels in the trough? Or do I just like what I like...