JUNE 25, 2009
I am not a successful screenwriter, but my buddy Simon is, so I will steal his description of the LA Film Festival, because it’s better than mine: "Their programming is elitist, they show movies everyone's already seen, and the festival takes place in a part of town, Westwood, where I wouldn't take a sick dog to get murdered."
I totally agree with his sentiment, but for whatever reason, their horror selections tend to be on the “good” side of things. I saw Let The Right One In there, as well as X-Cross (when the hell is that movie going to come out?!?), Flight of the Living Dead, and also an encore of Embodiment of Evil. But on the flipside, I am a bit tired of zom-coms, so I wasn’t sure how I would feel about ZMD: Zombies Of Mass Destruction. Luckily, it was a winner, and continued LAFF’s above average ratio of hits to misses within their still-too-narrow horror selection.
(I also stayed awake for the entire movie, which is something I’ve never accomplished at the Majestic Crest. Score!)
What sets ZMD apart from say, Dance Of The Dead (still not sure why people love that one so much), is an increasingly rare focus on actual social commentary within the zombie shenanigans. Every zombie film in the past 40 years owes at least a little to Romero, but doing the whole “message!” thing seems to be going by the wayside. Not that it’s a completely terrible thing to just make a straight up zombie film, but it would be nice to see a bit more often. Here, we have a directly post 9-11, George W. Bush America version of the usual “small town is besieged” setup (as opposed to the more metaphorical approach in Romero’s Land of the Dead). Our heroine is an Iranian who everyone thinks is an Iraqi, and has to deal with the fact that a good chunk of the town (thanks to a very obvious Fox News parody broadcast) thinks that “Middle Eastern terrorists” are responsible for the zombie plague.
Our other heroes are a pair of homosexuals, one of whom is still closeted. They have returned to town in order for the closeted one to finally confess to his mother that he is gay, at the insistence (OK, demand) of his lover, who is proudly “out”. The film specifically takes place in 2003, so writer/director Kevin Hamedani lost a bit of humor potential, as the topic of gay marriage is a far more prominent issue nowadays than it was 5-6 years back. In fact, the only time the humor really didn’t work on me is when the local priest hooks one of them up to a machine that can “straighten him out”. The humor in the film all works from the realistic characters faced with the ridiculous notion of the living dead, and this machine almost seems more far-fetched than the idea of zombies.
But like all zom-coms, you have to expect a certain number of dud gags and jokes, so it’s hardly problematic, especially when so many work. I laughed out loud a dozen times, and was charmed throughout. There’s a gag involving someone trying to escape after being (briefly) tortured that had me laughing for at least a minute, and someone’s simple reaction (“What?!?!”) to a particularly strange event made me laugh even harder. There are also a number of unique zombie gags, which is pretty impressive as you would think that it would be hard to come up with even one at this point.
It also has a few decent scares (p.s. slow zombies for the win!). The first outright attack is played for laughs, but it’s also fairly shocking in its suddenness. An assumed “safe” character is also done in when you least expect it, and it allows for some genuine suspense as our heroes make their way to safety, as you have that “no one is safe” feeling. Well played. The ending comes a bit abruptly (plus two of the featured humans suddenly disappear), but it’s still one of the more satisfying conclusions to a zombie film in recent memory, without any needless sequel setup (or worse, a sudden downbeat turn, like Bio-Zombie).
None of the actors have extensive resumes, but they are all pretty engaging, particularly Janette Armand as Freda, the heroine. Not only is she hot as hell, but she is quite natural both in the character scenes as well as the zombie killing ones. A terrific find. I also loved Andrew Hyde as her neighbor, who harbors an understandable crush on her (if you don’t laugh at “She’s four feet away!” early on, you’re a damn robot). His name is Brian though, so part of that might stem from my forever unfulfilled desire to play myself in a zombie movie (or for zombies to be real and get to fight some. Either or).
Man, I even liked the HD cinematography. Some of the wider shots suffer, as if the camera can’t handle more than 20 feet or so in front of the lens, but most of it takes place indoors, and the lighting is quite good. The movie probably cost less than a million bucks, yet looks 10x better than Michael Mann’s mega budget Public Enemies (seriously Mann, you’re one of our greatest modern directors - go back to using film please. Or at least have Robert Rodriguez show you how to use digital film.).
Obviously, the film is making the festival rounds right now, but hopefully folks can get an opportunity to see it soon without the hassle of a festival keeping them at bay. It’s the best of its type since Shaun Of The Dead, and the fact that it blends the social commentary in to boot (and does so in a slightly more subtle manner than stuff like Zombie Strippers) is quite laudable. If you’re expecting a special effects demo reel in the form of a film, you will probably be disappointed (though there is a sufficient amount of gore, and some great effects along with it - faces being pulled off, eyes falling out, etc). This ain’t a “splatter” zombie film. But it is a good one.
What say you?