MARCH 12, 2011
Rare is the non-comedic zombie film that actually says the word “zombie”, so I was kind of impressed when a character in Day X said it (and later alluded to Night of the Living Dead specifically). I don’t exactly relish in meta HUMOR (in small doses I enjoy it, however), but I wish more serious films took place in “the real world”, because it’s the sort of thing that’s always at the back of my mind – “Don’t they have horror movies in this world?”. Unfortunately, they seemingly only bring it up to point out that these aren’t zombies, which is always a sore spot for me.
I’m all for creating new monsters, but it annoys me when you get a movie where the filmmakers seem to be saying “this ISN’T a zombie movie!” but yet have their monsters look and act exactly like zombies. They bite, they stagger around, attack in groups yet don’t seem to be actively working together, their skin is black/green, and they seemingly possess no other intelligence beyond seeking human flesh. How is that NOT a zombie movie? That would be like saying “this isn’t a slasher movie!” but having the film’s villain wear a mask and stalk some kids in the woods, as far as I’m concerned.
But it’s actually a decent indie zombie film all the same. One thing I liked is that the hero of the movie (who, yes, does act a bit like Duane Jones) is quite level-headed and has strategies and plans for every situation. It reminded me of the Chris Evans character in Sunshine (directed by “not a zombie movie” 28 Days Later’s Danny Boyle!), in that the choices he makes are 100% logical but can sound heartless to others. They also kept the personal drama to a minimum – there are a few small arguments but none of that “the real danger is each other!” shit that nearly every other zombie movie leans on (usually as a way to avoid the more expensive zombie action, I think).
In fact, there’s actually quite a bit of action. The FX and zombie makeup aren’t exactly stellar, but it gets the job done, and the pace is much faster than expected. There are about 10 survivors to get picked off, and most of them do, so hurrah! Also, there’s a video-game style subplot where they need to acquire some colored keycards (for real) in order to get into a safehouse, which they need to get to because their temporary shelter is already failing (unlike Night of the Living Dead, where they seemed perfectly safe until they tried to go for the truck), so at least the action is more motivated and “movie plausible” than usual.
I wish there was a bit of variety to the killings, however. Just about every human death in the movie made me think “ah, they’re paying homage to the death of Rhodes from Day of the Dead” – a movie can only get away with one, MAYBE two of those before it gets a bit obnoxious. Since the killed folks don’t “turn” (one of the “it’s not a zombie movie” concepts), there’s no need to always tear them apart to prevent them from doing so, which is usually (to me) the idea behind killing them so viciously in these movies.
I also wouldn’t have minded a better looking film. I don’t know if it was sub-par lighting on location or a poor transfer during post production or both, but the movie is just damned ugly during all of the primary scenes with our hero and the other survivors. Oddly, there’s a B-story concerning the scientists who may have been behind the virus, presented via a video diary, and that footage looks a lot better, even though it SHOULD look sort of grainy and washed out. Another thing about these scenes – what the hell is up with the timecode? I get that it’s counting down to the initial outbreak (so that the science lab stuff chronologically happened a day or two before the rest of the movie), but it goes all over the place, even when it’s clear that no time has passed. At one point the main scientist talks about finding a microphone and monitors, and as he explains this, clearly in one unbroken short paragraph, the timecode suggests that it took him several hours to do so. Very weird.
Lead actor Ken Edwards doesn’t have any explanation for it either, which is why I wish anyone besides him was on the commentary. Nothing against actors, but they don’t make for very good commentators unless joined by other actors or have major involvement with the film’s creation. Someone like Tom Cruise or Will Smith, who gets involved with casting, the script process, etc – they can probably do a solo commentary and make it pretty interesting. But Edwards (and 99% of all other actors) simply don’t know enough about the sort of details that people who listen to commentaries are interested in hearing about, and the fact that he himself is asking the same questions the audience members are just sort of solidifies that. So when he’s not talking about how great (or how hot) Austin, TX is, he’s just narrating the movie.
And yet it’s still more useful than the 45 minute making of piece, which is (sigh) another collection of random behind the scenes footage without any sort of perspective or thru-line. Director Jason Bounds (who annoyingly credits himself as Jason Hack) barely appears, let alone offers any insight into how the film came together, where he got the idea, etc. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating – these are the types of movies where quality commentary and/or making of can actually be useful, not to mention stand out in the wasteland of crappy EPK fluff pieces or commentaries where the participants just explain how great everyone else is. There’s no one really looking over their shoulder, and they aren’t being released by some giant corporation that has too many partners to count (can’t complain about your Entertainment Weekly review if you’re a Warner Bros movie – they’re both owned by the same group!). And the making of doesn’t have to be flashy and loaded with clips of their high paid stars doing their thing – they can actually demonstrate how budding filmmakers can go about creating their own film. It’s a sin to spend 45 minutes watching the making of a movie and walk away not having learned anything.
What say you?