FEBRUARY 15, 2010
Someday, I want to see a zombie movie where the 3rd act is just as good, or better, than the first two. I’d estimate that 90% of the zombie films I have seen suffer from a climax that doesn’t compel as much as the stuff that came before (Day of the Dead, and the original NOTLD, are exceptions, though Dawn’s climax is comparatively weak IMO). So I was hardly surprised to see that Severed: Forest Of The Dead (just Severed on the film itself) starts off pretty great, but then lost steam. Worse, it goes off on an undeveloped tangent (surprise! “Evil” humans, though not as bad as usual), and just sort of trails off; complete with a rare bummer ending that has nothing to do with the main plot.
That would be a father realizing his son is dead, that it’s pretty much his fault (he ordered some genetic experiment to provide more lumber - which is actually sort of noble as it would prevent de-forestation - and it went wrong, their tree sap causes the zombie mutation), and then walking out of the room. Roll credits. What the hell kind of way is that to end a zombie movie? I thought it was building toward some zombies about to swarm his house so that he could get his just desserts, but nope. He’s just sad. Granted, it’s nice to see a zombie movie (or ANY modern horror movie) where someone’s death actually has an effect on another character, even moreso one that you aren’t really rooting for, but it’s still an awkward ending that diminishes an otherwise above-average zombie flick.
For starters, it’s well paced. The zombies show up early on, and the next 50 minutes or so is pretty much a nonstop dart from one locale to another, with our core cast dropping like flies. And I liked that the inherent conflict actually made sense for once, and without clear cut villainy on one side. Basically we have environmentalists and loggers having to team up to escape, as opposed to say, a band of criminals and some cops, or just some complete asshole like Cooper in NOTLD. By leaving the guy responsible (who, again, isn’t exactly a typical villain) out of the chaos, we don’t automatically side with one side or the other (and, to be fair, the environmentalists are also to blame, as their tree spikes caused the injury that allowed the infected sap to enter the guy’s bloodstream). It’s actually kind of touching near the end when one of the enviro-folks breaks down when one of the loggers is killed, as they had realistically bonded over the course of the film.
It’s also got some pretty sweet set-pieces. My favorite is probably when the zombies are swarming toward a group of protesters who have chained themselves to trees, and the others (including a logger or two) have to put themselves in danger to try to free them. Whether for budgetary or creative reasons, there are never more than maybe a dozen zombies onscreen, but that actually kind of makes the more suspenseful and “realistic” - scenes like the one in Dawn of the Dead 04 where the van can’t even move because so many zombies have surrounded it might be awesome, but they also remove the fear factor, because it’s just so over-the-top. The first big zombie scene is kind of botched though, as the hero hilariously says “What’s wrong?” in a casual manner, despite the fact that we (and thus, he) can see that the guy’s skin is the wrong color and that he’s FUCKING EATING A DUDE.
I just wish that the “survivors” group that pops up near the end had more to do throughout the film. I like that they weren’t outright evil like in 28 Days Later or whatever, but the film’s focus suddenly changes, and we end up spending most of the climax listening to one of them go crazy, shouting “Ra ra!” from a raised platform while one of the others kept threatening to shoot him. It’s one of those deals where the scene you are watching doesn’t belong in the final ten minutes of a horror movie, since we’re focusing on new characters were barely know and the zombie threat doesn’t even seem important. And then there’s barely any zombie action at their compound, so the final zombie attack takes place in the same tree patches and muddy inclines that we’ve seen throughout the first 80 minutes of the movie.
But hey look - it’s an enjoyable, well made (the cinematography is terrific), somewhat original, and largely humor-free zombie movie from the past decade, of which there are precious few. I’ll gladly take an uneven film over a completely half-assed one that has no reason to exist (Doomed, anyone?). Also, the box art kicks ass.
What say you?