Rated: R (Contains intense violence, gore, adult language, sexual situations, and nudity)
Starring: Roger Cross, Daniella Alonso, Bruce Payne, Scott Adkins, and Jesse Garcia
What I love about the promo for Re-Kill is it presents the film as a serious Cops/SWAT team action flick. It really isn’t. The format is far, far different. We’re watching a reality TV show within a movie, essentially. There’s even a slew of eyebrow-raising commercials, including promotional material from an agency tasked with promoting procreation. So after some serious bloodshed, it flashes to a steamy boudoir scene used for sexual propaganda. The first time it happens, it’s a tad startling. Each subsequent time, one’s mind treats it like an actual commercial and tuning out to do something else is an impossible urge to fight. It’s not until the final act that things get serious enough to really snag one’s attention, primarily because the commercial breaks are so outlandish, it kills the tension and they’re forced to start all over again to put viewers on the edge of their seats. Sometimes doing something quirky doesn’t work as planned.
Five years after the zombie outbreak, the entertainment industry has found a way to make a buck from the catastrophe which killed 4.5 billion people worldwide. Case in point, a popular reality TV show called Re-Kill, which follows random squadrons in the newly formed R-Division. The R-Division are the frontline when it comes to containing the undead within the quarantine zones, as well as taking care of any pop-up outbreaks in the United States. Being on the frontline means they’re also painfully aware that things are getting bad again. One squadron is wiped out on live-TV, save Alex Winston. Winston’s new squad has much better luck remaining with the living, completing a couple missions before things start to get weird. Why would someone drive a truckload of re-ans (zombies) into a quarantined zone? The government interrogates the truck drivers and learns of something called the Judas Project hidden in the middle of re-an occupied territory. Since the squad is already familiar with what’s going on, they’re tapped to venture into The Zone, formerly New York City, to investigate. They never expected to find a city of undead who’re smart and forming an army under the leadership of a re-an nicknamed Elvis by now-dead scientists in the failed Judas Project.
Without the commercials breaking up the action, the premise has promise on paper. The actors are pretty stellar; it’s a pleasant surprise to step into the last half of the movie and realize Dark Matter‘s Roger Cross is the new squad’s leader, Sarge. Bruce Payne really nails Winston’s complex moral code, all while being creepy as hell. There’s some characters who’re a tad too abrasive, like every dudebro stereotype is crammed into gun-wielding nutjobs who get their rocks off killing former humans. As for plot? There’s really not one until the final “episode” begins, which is far too deep in a film to finally go, “Oh, by the way, there’s this bad thing happening and we should stop it somehow.”
The production didn’t expend too much effort on the re-an FX makeup, probably because this film is shot first-person POV and once the action starts, hardly any of the zombies get a decent close-up. The basics are good enough here—pale and mottled skin, dark veins, and jagged teeth provide just enough visual cues to sell the look. There’s a small group of hero zombies, but the only difference is they’ve got more veins or a very specific facial wound. Like a lot of shoot-’em-up zombie films, these zombies are terrifyingly fast and move erratically. If they’d used shambling re-ans, the film would have been intolerably slow.
For failing to be what is promised in the promotional material, Re-Kill still manages to check a few boxes on the list genre fans keep in order to determine if a film is worth their time. At the very least, it’s a great excuse to watch people mow down zombies. However, be prepared for a fight to stay interested once the faux commercials kick in. Overall, I give Re-Kill three shattered jaws out of five.
Rated: TV-MA (Contains nudity, adult language, sexual situations)
Starring: Lucy Watters, Gina Piersanti. Adam David Thompson, and Shane West
A mysterious virus spreads across America. It starts out as a simple rash, but eventually the infected become angry, ravenous creatures set to fill a hunger which can never be sated. Ann and Jason thumb their noses at the government’s suggestion that they stay put and instead take off into the woods where Jason grew up to wait it out. If only surviving were as easy as taking off when things get bad. Their foraging skills aren’t enough. Desperation pushes Jason to venture on a one-way mission to get food and medicine. Ann is left alone in the woods with a baby . . . and then by herself completely not long after. Eventually she manages to work out a system to keep herself alive. Time passes. She avoids the insatiable, diseased creatures slowly roaming away from the cities while making daring dashes into abandoned houses to find food. That’s when Ann finds Chris and his stepdaughter, Olivia. The trio start off wary survivors banding together just to stay alive, but tangled emotions and the monsters have a way of turning strangers into family—a really dysfunctional one.
I went into this film expecting more of the same zombie stuff that’s been done before across the genre, especially since low-budget films like this tend to only have the capacity to tell exactly one story. Boy was I surprised once the movie found its footing. First off, Ann is the survivor from the family, not Jason who’s marginally more skilled at outdoor survival. She’s all-in when it comes to doing what’s necessary, including smearing god knows what on herself to mask her scent while on trips to find food. There’s very few moments where the writing made it feel like, “This woman would be a mess and die without her man and child.” Which is refreshing. We know those moments exist, it’s human nature to mourn and fall into depression in the face of so much adversity, but they flit by quick enough to keep the story rolling along. That being said, failing to focus on Ann’s mental anguish doesn’t mean there’s no emotional impact from her losses. That final scene with the baby is gut-wrenching for any parent to endure.
Where things go sideways in this film is when the dynamic between Olivia and Ann is fully flushed out going into the final act. Honestly, the whole emotional twist here leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Everything about this film is solid, except the stepfather fetishism. It’s creepy and unhealthy. Not to mention completely unnecessary. There’s countless ways for the women to fall out with each other which doesn’t demand a love triangle where there shouldn’t be one. Can we stop doing this, writers? It’s not titillating. It’s just gross. Women don’t need sexual rivals in order to find each other’s company problematic—this is one trope I wish would die in a fire already.
Adam David Thomspon as Chris in HERE ALONE. Cinematographer: Adam McDaid
The infected aren’t on-screen much. They’re brought in sparingly because the story is about Ann, not the outbreak. That being said, these zombies are some tough mothers. They’re quick, jittery, ready to eat anything fleshy which lands in their path. The makeup is pretty basic, but well done. These zombies are, for the most part, intact so there’s not a load of gore to dress them up. Primarily it’s all mottled skin, black veins, and whatever blood came from their last meal. Simple. Effective. The zombie makeup didn’t break their budget, but despite that it doesn’t look like something a harried mother slapped on their kid after school because of course Halloween is on a Tuesday—yes, I’ve seen films with makeup that bad. The extras brought in to play the dead are energetic, adding their unique spin on zombie movements which seriously helps raise the tension in the final scenes.
Here Alone starts off a little slow, builds at about the same speed, then rams a car into your knees and takes off toward the ending before you’re sure what’s actually happening. Yet there’s a huge misstep with how the women in the film interact which cannot be overlooked—we must do better as writers to strangle these tropes pitting women against each other, their mental well-being, and their own safety in order to secure a man. That being said, as much as I’d like to give this a higher rating, Here Alone gets three and a half gnawed-on femurs out of five.
Starring Wesley Snipes, Kevin Howarth, Riley Smith, Tanit Phoenix, and Sinona Roman
Oh, oh dear. Today I learned why my gut kept me away from this film for five years. If you want to see what happens when an idea completely misses the mark, here’s your study guide. On paper, if explained somewhat coherently, this is a decent concept. The reality of what they captured does not sell the idea at all, and it’s nearly incomprehensible to boot. Don’t even get me going on these names.
Aman is born to a woman who joins a convent tasked with safeguarding the passage between our world and the underworld where the damned dwell. At puberty, he’s given the boot because he’s a man, and eventually finds shelter with a butcher and her daughter, Sueno. Years pass. The youngsters fall in love. One afternoon he leaves to escort the butcher on a trip; his lover stays at home alone. Men break in and force themselves on Sueno. She hides the horrible truth until nature gives her no choice but to tell Aman. He Flips. His. Lid. Hunts down Kansa and his gang, cornering them in a jail and killing everyone inside—except Kansa’s guilt-ridden son who hung himself. Something goes wrong, Aman is killed. His grief-stricken mother literally talks the Devil into bringing Aman back, but the catch is everyone he murdered comes back a zombie. Oh and she’s gonna die. The rest of the film is Aman chasing the zombie gang around while Kansa frantically searches for a way to revive his son—not to mention constantly harvesting new skins because theirs rotted off. There’s even a plucky young sidekick for Aman, Fabulos. Did I mention this is all set in a vaguely wild west setting?
If only the plot were even that coherent in practice. The story comes out in disjointed flashes between several locations and time periods. About halfway through we finally figure out where the hell the zombie thing came from. The language used for some characters is unpleasant and sounds forced. The action suddenly flashes to the rape scene far too many times; because surely we need everyone’s POV. Not really. It’s hard to keep track of who is where and when. The zombie lore is even a bit sketchy because there doesn’t seem to be a uniform rule for how they’ll come back. Some return as revenants, just hungry and lunging at whatever they see. The rest pretty much maintain their wits, but it’s suggested they lose their humanity, and skin, each time Aman kills them but doesn’t decapitate them.
The makeup is pretty neat. I’m fascinated by the lizard zombie. Kudos to whoever came up with that idea. When it finally clicked in my mind what’s going on with the guy’s head, I had to pause and laugh. Visually, the film is pretty neat. None of the FX makeup is so lacking it pulls you from the movie, save one or two moments where they try something hard to do with practical effects, and you can tell. It happens. The costumes are covetable. Honestly, about half an hour in it really just feels like someone wants to play cowboy, so let’s doll up—and why not toss in some zombies? But the zombies have to talk because otherwise viewers really wouldn’t have a clue about the actual plot.
In the end, I’m judging this one purely on what it looks like. If one tries to think too hard about the story they tried to tell, it ends in a headache. Edited together differently, it might be salvageable. As-is, this is a pretty mess. I’m giving it one and a half punctured lungs out of five.
Rated: Not Rated (contains intense gore, adult language, and violence)
Starring: Benjamin Engell, Troels Lyby, Mille Dinesen, Ella Solgaard, and Marie Hammer Boda
Dino and Pernille Johansson live with their small family in an idyllic town, Sorgenfri, where it’s so peaceful, the teens are bored to death by the end of summer vacation. That doesn’t last long. Shortly after the new girl, Sonja, moves in across the street, things start to get weird in Denmark. The news features public service announcements on proper hygiene in hopes of staving off a virus sweeping the countryside. It doesn’t work. Sorgenfri is quarantined. The Johansson family are trapped inside, stealing glimpses through the black tarps covering their home as the military takes over once-quiet streets. One by one, the townsfolk are removed from their homes and carted off in semi-trucks. Others are forcibly stopped by the military. Gustav, the Johansson’s son, gets curious and breaks out of the house to snoop on the armed men, and perhaps check in with Sonja as well. Of course, he makes matters worse.
Let’s be frank, this film isn’t anything we haven’t seen on-screen before. I’ve seen versions of similar trapped-house horror plots for decades. What We Become takes the zombie genre back to its simplistic roots in an era where we’ve been given blockbuster after blockbuster, and even the TV shows are approached like they’re feature films cut into chunks to air each week. What you see is what you get with this film. There’s one main location. A tiny cast. Most of the action is through stolen glimpses outside, the news, or during one of the few seriously ill-thought outings to confront what’s really going on in Sorgenfri. It’s NotLD in Danish. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s simply a predictable thing, which will be what keeps genre fans from calling this film one of their top-whatever. Simple films can be well done, though. This is a perfect example.
Because most of the tension is based on how the family interacts and reacts to an unknown threat, the zombies are saved for the final act in the film. We’re given a quick look at the undead chaos at one point, but the full-frontal shambling dead came in the last fifteen minutes or so. From that point on, it’s all snarls and gnashing teeth. The makeup takes a soft approach to the newly turned zombies. Some hero zombies are pretty gruesome; one of the first we see clearly is pretty torn up. To go from the restrained first acts in the film where the zombie action was off-screen to the undead taking over the town in minutes is jarring, tampered by the makeup on the newly turned, especially those who turn inside the house. They almost look like vampires up until the feeding begins.
The final zombie action is undercut perfectly with one last bout of family drama. What happens when one of their own is ready to turn? It’s a wonderful final moment for the actors. This cast is pretty solid and did what they could with the script. Unfortunately, that script leads most characters down a path which ends with several attempts to fix their circumstances by attempting to leave the quarantine area or interact with the military on their turf. It goes about as well as you’re thinking.
What We Become is a pretty solid toe-dip into zombie storytelling. Yes, it has predictable parts. However, the cast saves the film from being tiresome. Come for the high-tension acting, stay for the comfortable feeling of watching just another zombie movie. Sometimes we all need to unwind and watch cannibalistic monsters terrorize a family, along with a few select neighbors. I’m giving this film three and a half severed arms out of five.
Rated: Not Rated (Contains extreme violence, strong adult language) Language: English
Starring: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato, Richard Liberty, Jarlath Conroy, and Sherman Howard
In tribute to the man who brought us all to this weird zombie life, I snagged Day of the Dead for a re-watch . . . and realized I’d never covered the film for this website. Well, that’s just wrong. We’re going to remedy the problem right now.
Sarah and her band of scientists are perhaps the last to continue research work during the zombie apocalypse. They’re aided by thuggish army personnel who’ve just about had their limit of hunkering down in an abandoned missile silo while the man they call Frankenstein carries out gruesome experiments. The team’s goal is to find any way to lessen the zombie impact in an earth overrun by the undead. Sarah wants a cure. Her blood-coated coworker, Dr. Logan, thinks he can tame zombies using positive reinforcement and their own latent human traits. It works. Somewhat. There’s one zombie who’s not like the others: Bub. But their progress with Bub isn’t enough for Rhodes, the military man in charge. He snaps and all their hard work hits the fan.
Now, admittedly, Day of the Dead isn’t many people’s favorite Dead film. The language is beyond foul. The racism makes any sane person’s blood boil. The way the men treat the only woman is abhorrent, and while there’s no sexual violence, it sure is threatened a lot. We’re meant to be disgusted by these men. The best shortcut was to make them outrageously racist, misogynistic, and flat out a-holes of the highest caliber. They’ve existed in an echo chamber of hatred while stuck underground. Basically, this is Romero saying that if you put a bunch of awful white men in a jar, they’ll become even more hateful before turning on each other just to have someone to fight other than their own thoughts. Unfortunately, they weren’t alone and those caught in the crossfire are people who don’t deserve to be treated so badly. Almost everyone pays with their lives because Rhodes is, deep down, a frightened little boy who requires a death grip on everything he can possibly control since the world above is absolutely insane.
The ethical questions raised by Dr. Logan’s experiments lead to some of the best conversations Romero’s ever brought to the table, on-screen and off. At what point do the undead stop being human? For Logan, it is never, ever clear. He has no qualms about using the military men as fresh zombies to operate on while he searches for what makes them tick. On the other hand, he treats Bub as an adoptive son, is painfully patient with him, and goes to great lengths to ensure the zombie’s well-being. This is night and day compared to the way Logan talks to the scientific team and the military men. With humans he speaks from a place of deep entitlement, never bothering to hide that he believes himself to be far superior to them because he’s so dang smart. He gets away with it, for the most part. However when Sarah snaps and puts Rhodes or his men in their place, she’s nearly shot. Logan made himself important, far more important than his peer, and forced Rhodes to see her as disposable. Frankenstein was never in the silo to help humanity. He was there to help himself by gathering knowledge about the one thing no one else had access to, and did it in a way he knew Sarah wouldn’t replicate so she could never be on the pedestal he built for himself.
There’s so much going on with the dead in this film. This is where Romero drove home the notion that they’re not much different from us, only they have something primal driving them instead of the complex rules humans live by every day. They’ve got more freedom than the humans. Even Bub and the others imprisoned in the silo for experimentation are at liberty to do what they want because there’s no social rules for the undead. Their only restriction is placed on them by another species. They just are whoever they are and nothing can change that. Bub already possessed the reasoning capabilities Logan exploits in the film. How do we know that? Land of the Dead. In that film, the dead communicate, have returned to a human-less life where they repeat the tasks ingrained in their minds from their living days, and eventually band together to seek something which is missing from their lives. If Bub were taught how to reason, future generations of zombies wouldn’t have been able to accomplish their great trek to Fiddler’s Green. We owe a lot to Bub.
The makeup FX are some of the best . . . for 1985. Except for a few background actors in full masks who accidentally shuffled too close to camera, the zombies are a collection of what everyone considers a stereotypical zombie. Go look at your local zombie pub crawl. Most of what’s there can also be found in the final act of Day of the Dead. There’s even a clown, for heaven’s sake. Romero did it all back in a decade when zombies weren’t the cool thing to produce. That influence echoes throughout anything dealing with the undead to this day.
Day of the Dead signaled a change in the way the undead would be presented for decades. For that reason, and so many more, I’m giving it four oozing eyeballs out of five.
Rated: TV-MA (extreme violence, strong language) Language: Korean
Starring: Gong Yoo, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma, Soo-an Kim, Woo-shik Choi, So-hee Ahn, and Eui-sung Kim
Occasionally Netflix doesn’t fail the genre completely. Recently they added Train to Busan to their streaming service, which is probably the best thing they’ve done in the last year. It’s hard to believe this film didn’t catch my attention before now, seeing as it was a huge hit across the Pacific. Let’s be honest, the American film media is horrible about giving props to genre flicks not set on their home turf. Pair that with the fact that it’s best watched in the original Korean and film media push it aside for yet another poorly produced American movie which is just a clone of fifty similar films and television shows. This film is a breath of fresh air. It’ll also keep you so far on the edge of your seat, you may fall off by the time the final scene plays out.
Seok-woo is a work-obsessed absentee father dealing with the fallout from a tense divorce. On the eve of his daughter Soo-an’s birthday, he screws up royally. To make it up to her, he relents to her demands to see her mother in Busan. Leaving town isn’t ideal. There’s something going on with one of the funds he manages and his coworker Kim is increasingly concerned about the reports he’s receiving. But a promise is a promise, so off they go. Seconds before the train departs for Busan, an injured woman jumps aboard. She’s infected with something none of them have seen before. When a train worker comes to her aid, the infected woman attacks and chaos erupts. By the time the initial attack is done, there’s only one train car worth of people left. The rest turn zombie and are locked in the middle train cars. News coming in via overhead televisions isn’t any better. Entire cities are overrun with the undead. Several are quarantined. When the train stops at last, it’s only to discover that the military couldn’t hold the quarantine and the dead have taken over. They opt to move on, pushed by an unhinged COO, Yon-suk. Throughout the last half of the movie it’s hard to tell who the real enemy is, the zombies or the paranoid humans trapped on the train.
This isn’t just another action movie with zombies. There’s a message or forty in the way the living interact with each other. We have an intense father/daughter plot which will drive anyone with a heart to tears by the third act. The film’s writer leaned heavily on the notion of ingrained human selfishness and the heinous damage it does to the masses during a crisis. Many of those who perish in the final act only die due to selfishness and their willingness to turn a blind eye to hatred if it means they’ll live to see another day. Panic becomes a new cast member at the end, unseen yet pushing one survivor group against the other with no sound reason. We’ve seen tension like that before, TWD uses it near-weekly, but here it’s so in-your-face wrong that I couldn’t help but yell at the television. That’s the kind of writing I miss, the scripts which make one forget they’re not one of the characters for a couple hours. It’s hard to watch the human cruelty, but even harder to look away.
Those zombies, guys. I haven’t seen character movement like that in ages unless it was in one of countless demonic possession films. These zombies are twitchy, bendy, snappish, and flat out cool. They’re scary solo, and pants-pissing terrifying in a mob. Kudos to the extras who worked on this film. They left everything on the set every day of production. The pay-off created probably some of my favorite mass zombie scenes to date—the train station attack on the stairs and the sequence where Seok-woo, Sang-hwa, and Yong-guk fight from car nine to car thirteen to rescue a group separated from the other survivors. Because there are so many undead, the makeup for them is simplistic. And you know what? I don’t care. They could have slapped white grease paint on them and let them loose and it wouldn’t have done a thing to lessen the performances from the extras and hero zombies.
Train to Busan is the action-packed zombie film we’ve been waiting for since World War Z tried and just didn’t quite hit the mark. There’s some issues, yes, but the writing and action are so solid, the issues get a free pass. I wouldn’t hesitate to watch it again, something I never do with zombie films outside Romero’s contributions to the genre. Train to Busan gets five severed heads out of five. Now what are you waiting for? Go watch it!