MAY 7, 2011
I heard a lot of pans of The Horde (La Horde if you’re French), but most of them were from folks who tend to hate just about everything that they watch on screeners, often not even paying attention to the movie. So I wasn’t too surprised to discover that I enjoyed this zombified version of Assault On Precinct 13, with a condemned apartment building subbing for a closing police station, though not without a few caveats.
The main issue is that it’s too easy to not only guess who lives and who dies, but even the order in which they get offed. Assault (and even its remake) had a couple of great shock deaths; either a character you assume will be safe getting killed, or someone you expect to last a while being taken out surprisingly early. But here, as soon as the first zombie attack occurs, you can probably guess who’s a goner and who will be the last man standing (hint: it’s not a man!). The silver lining to this is that since all of the characters are either drug dealers or crooked cops, it’s no real loss when any of them die; even the heroine is kind of a bitch. Ordinarily this is a turn off, but the film’s fast pace and the always fun “uneasy alliance” subplot make up for it.
And there is an exception – René, an older war vet who is quite possibly my favorite character in a zombie movie since Phil (the stepdad) in Shaun of the Dead, at least, unless you count Bill Murray as Bill Murray in Zombieland. Not only is he the only non-criminal in the movie, he’s also wonderfully nutty, having a grand old time as he mows down “Chinks” (his colorful nickname for the zombies) with his rail-gun and leading our anti-heroes through the labyrinthine, dilapidated building. He also almost unknowingly eases the tension between the two groups by offering them brandy, learning the word “hardcore” from one of the drug dealers, and, most hilariously, casually attempts to cut off the leg of one of the guys who had been bitten. He’s also an exception to the “you know when they’ll die” problem, as I was never sure if he would get killed before the next major character or even make it all the way to the end.
Another problem is that these goons simply don’t LEARN. By now I think there have been enough zombie movies for all movie characters to know that shooting them in the head is the only way to take them down; it’s not like you have a new vampire movie where folks don’t know about sunlight or holy water, right? Same “understanding” should apply to the undead, I think. But I’ll accept that they might need to learn or at least be reminded of this fact – as long as once they figure it out that they stop wasting bullets by shooting at their chests. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen here; after a pretty hilarious (and gory) bit where they seemingly unload a hundred rounds into the first zombie before finally blowing his head off, there are still another half dozen scenes where a zombie is shot/beaten/slammed/whatever in its torso instead of simply putting a round in their forehead. Sure, it allows for more blood (I love the visual of little chunks of body flying around), but it comes at the expense of any chance we will look at our protagonists as intelligent. Hell even Shaun and Ed figured this shit out and their inability to solve their problems was part of the goddamn point of the movie!
But as I said, it’s pretty fast paced and gory, and yet not cartoonish; it’s almost like the Black Hawk Down of zombie movies – frenetic and violent (and shot SCOPE!). And it’s refreshingly un-Hollywood; the enemies team up but don’t become best buddies. So many of these alliance movies tend to have their characters forget about their initial issues with each other, but they’re at each others’ throats until the very end. Plus, the story doesn’t provide any opportunities for say, one of the cops to risk his life to save one of the drug dealers or vice versa; they are basically together for a “safety in numbers” approach and nothing else. Not that I DISLIKE the other approach, but it’s kind of fun to see it done without the moral ambiguity and changes of heart – these folks hate each other and always will.
Also, as a Dead Rising fan, I loved how many goddamn zombies there were! There’s no explanation where they came from or how far the problem is reaching, but there seems to be a lot of them converging on this one building. So by the end, one of our heroes is on top of a car fighting for his life while literally hundreds of zombies swarm around him, which reminded me of some of the more nerve-wracking moments in the first Dead Rising game (or Case Zero, I guess – I still haven’t found the time to play DR2). In fact, it was when I saw how many zombies were on-screen at once (and how wonderfully goofy/gory it was when you killed them with say, a bowling ball) that made me want to buy an Xbox 360 all those years ago, so it was fun to see that sort of chaos depicted on screen. Usually the zombie numbers are kept to a minimum for close up action, with these sort of, well, hordes kept for wide shots (where they can fake it with digital effects), but this seemed to be a fully practical mob.
And it builds toward that unmanageable number. At first, we’re just seeing one or two zombies in isolated “fight” type scenes, and then they get to small groups chasing them or whatever, before all out insanity in the final 20 minutes. Not to speak ill of Dawn of the Dead, but if anything their numbers seem to DWINDLE as the movie goes on, with the motorcycle mob becoming a bigger threat than the zombies. That’s the other nice thing here – no evil humans or external complications; it’s nice and straight forward. In fact they even mention early on that there are still some families living in the building because they had nowhere else to go, but apart from René we never really see them.
At least, not in this cut. Apparently there is a longer version floating around, one that further develops the crooked cops’ motivations and interpersonal drama (the heroine had an affair with the married officer whose death they are avenging, which caused some problems in their unit), but I don’t know if anything else was excised. There’s a mysterious pile of computers and parts in the drug dealers’ safehouse, but if it’s explained I must have missed it (I was trying really hard to pay attention to the subtitles, but I’m sure I missed a few here and there). None of the cuts seem to be gore related, however – I can’t imagine that a ratings board would take offense to other stuff considering what’s on display here (especially considering that the movie isn’t “light” like say, Dead Alive, where the comic touch can allow them to get away with more).
According to the Wikipedia, the movie played theatrically in the US last August; granted my focus was entirely on Frightfest but if it came to LA I am upset I missed it; I’m the first to complain about the lack of foreign horror playing theatrically (all the other countries get to see our movies in theaters, why can’t we see theirs?), and of course I’m always up for a big screen, well made zombie film, considering all the godawful no-budget ones I suffer through thanks to HMAD. I know a lot of folks are completely sick of zombie movies because there have been so many, but I’m only sick of the really bad ones. Stuff like this? I’d be happy to see every week (indeed, just last week I watched Mutants!).
What say you?