OCTOBER 10, 2011
Despite jarring shifts in tone, some lousy editing, and a terrible performance by Danny Dyer, Devil’s Playground works if you look at it as a sort of Resident Evil type movie, where things like plot and dialogue aren’t really important as long as you’re being consistently entertained by zombie action. The problem is, I don’t think that’s quite what the filmmakers were going for, as the somber tone and the fact that they were seemingly looking to Children Of Men for inspiration suggests mindless fun wasn’t their main priority.
While most of the movie plays out like every other 28 Days Later/Night Of The Living Dead type zombie movie, there’s an added twist – a possible cure (for once!). The outbreak is caused by a new steroid that seemed fine at first but ultimately caused side effects in 29,999 out of the 30,000 test subjects. That one exception, of course, might hold the key to a cure, so it’s up to hardass Craig Fairbrass to get her back to the lab. Obviously, doing so won’t exactly be easy, as there are zombies and assholes standing in their way, not to mention the fact that she’s pregnant and her baby daddy (Dyer) doesn’t think too much of her being treated like a lab rat.
Unfortunately Bart Ruspoli’s script botches this rescue mission plot by keeping her and most of the other characters holed up for the entire second act, killing the momentum and urgency of the situation. With more of a chase/protect motif (think Children of Men, or Babylon AD for something more in line with the sort of movie we’re dealing with here), this could have been a lot of fun, not to mention helped us forget or forgive the derivative aspects of the story. But once they finally get going, there’s no hiccups until the movie’s almost over. Not that anyone would believe that she WOULDN’T be safely brought to the lab, but they could have at least put her in danger more often.
They also could have had more heroes dying to protect her. It’s borderline stupid that no one besides Fairbrass seems to understand how important it is that she be kept alive – two characters even intentionally try to kill her! What in the hell sense does that make? At least Dyer’s opposition makes sense: he’s afraid her/their baby will be subjected to tests that might harm them. But everyone else just has generic “We have to think of ourselves first” plans, which also reduces the urgency of the situation – if her own companions don’t seem to think she’s all that special, why should we? Without her storyline to guide us, the movie is just another “zombies take over we need to get away” movie, of which we’ve seen many.
And again, the editing is questionable at best. Sean Pertwee shows up with a silly mustache, has one scene with dialogue, and then later appears out of nowhere, steals a boat and zooms away, never to be seen again. It’s not like they put his name on the cover or anything, but why bother casting him if he’s going to be some sort of anonymous cop, and why give ANY character such a random “arc”? Plus, it starts at the end, with Fairbrass telling the story, something that almost never works for me. It also might have been fun to keep us in the dark of how our characters related; the film starts off like Contagion or whatever, with a bunch of characters in different situations reacting to different parts of the outbreak, but we learn how they connect long before their characters actually meet up. For example, Dyer gets out of prison at the movie’s beginning, and it’s not until the halfway point that he meets up with his ex (The Descent’s MyAnne Buring; a stunning presence). It would have been a fun little surprise to discover their connection when they actually met, but they talk about each other in their introductory scenes. It’s like the movie wants us to be constantly way ahead of its characters.
But like I said, if you look at it more as a Resident Evil-esque timekiller, it’s pretty good. Fast zombie fans should enjoy all the running and jumping, and even though I belong to the slow zombie school, I like that their super strength and parkour style antics actually made sense (they WERE on steroids, after all). The budget wasn’t high but they did a fine job of depicting a chaotic London, and you’re never more than a few minutes away from Fairbrass going to town on some poor zombie bastard with a hammer or multiple close range shots from his pistol. And in addition to Pertwee, Colin Salmon pops up as the head of the pharmaceutical company that caused the whole mess, so along with the others I’ve mentioned, the cast is like a who’s who of vets from better movies (and of course Salmon was actually IN a Resident Evil movie).
It also looks fantastic. The deleted scenes shows the raw digital video, so even though none of them are particularly interesting (they’re also out of order), it’s worth taking a look at them just to compare to how good the finished film looks. There are about a dozen different companies listed on the DVD (Indomina and Vivendi seem to be the most major), so I don’t know who to thank for the transfer, but it looks almost blu-ray perfect at times. I know 28 Days Later is considered a classic and all that, but quite frankly that movie just looks like an amateur film school project more often than not, and of course Colin only cost about 12 quid – it’s nice to see a professional looking zombie ravaged London for a change!
In addition to the deleted scenes, there’s a brief making of that quickly covers the usual bases, nothing essential. There’s also a QR code imprinted on the disc; scanning it will bring you to a webpage that apparently has a bonus video clip. My phone isn’t good enough to open it, so I have no idea what it is, but I hope this is not how bonus material will be provided in the future. I am a firm believer that everything should be on the disc – why should those who don’t even know what a QR code is be deprived of bonus material? Unless it’s something specific for a phone (i.e. a ringtone or a mobile game), then I shouldn’t have to use my phone to access it.
So A for effort and all, but it never quite becomes the compelling “serious” zombie movie it tries to be at times, and the things it does get right have been done in other movies anyway. Again, fine to put on in the background while you sort laundry or maybe do your nails if that’s your sort of thing, but the more attention you give it, the less impressed you will be.
What say you?