DECEMBER 25, 2011
I read "Remains" when it came out in single issues back in 2004, and now the box that they are in is buried too deep to bother trying to find (if it even made it in the move to LA - my mom's place in MA still has a lot of my "junk"). Obviously I've read a lot of comics since then, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall that the comic only focused on the main two survivors for the most part, until the army guys showed up? Because there are four main characters in Steve Niles' Remains, the cable movie adaptation - and that was one of its problems.
I tried looking up reviews or summaries online, but all I can find are reviews and summaries of this movie, which is of no use to me. But the fact that the magician character (Miko Hughes) and the obligatory zombie movie douchebag (Anthony Marks) instantly stuck out as "new" to me (whereas the other two leads seemed familiar from the comic) makes me think I am right, and that they were new inventions for the movie, or at least greatly expanded roles for supporting characters from the comic. It's a puzzling decision to me, for a couple reasons. For starters, Chiller obviously doesn't have a blank check budget, so you'd think keeping the number of characters to a minimum would allow to spend more money on things like zombies and FX.
But even more troubling is that it takes away from one of the most interesting things about the comic, which is the fact that the two leads (a down on his luck dealer and a cocktail waitress) were total scumbags, and yet they were all we had. I know I dislike movies where the heroes are assholes, but when it comes from a source material it's easy enough to forgive, especially when it comes to well-worn territory. It's not like we have to look hard to find a zombie movie these days, so anything that can make one unique in some way should be exploited, not diminished. Not only are the characters much more "audience friendly" now, but the fact that they have to share screentime with two others reduces EVERYONE'S time for characterization and bonding. Even if they softened them up, it might have been fun to see humanity (or, at least, Reno) come down to two self-absorbed losers, but instead we just get yet another "rag-tag group of survivors fight zombies... and themselves!" movie, albeit on a small budget that keeps the action kind of bland.
Now, they haven't exactly become the Brady Bunch, either. The girl in particular is kind of a selfish bitch throughout the movie, though she has a soft spot for the Hughes character (who is gay, an interesting development that is largely unexplored). Her arc is pretty close to the comics, but she just comes across more as an occasionally frustrated woman instead of the original heartless badass warrior. But hero Tom (played by True Blood's Grant Bowler) is just a schmuck, for the most part - his plans don't often work, he gets duped, etc. This allows for some Jack Burton-lite type moments, such as when he tries to smash through a parking garage gate (hilarious sight gag), but Bowler is no Kurt Russell, and thus the act gets kind of old. What should have been a sort of fun battle between these two (think Changing Lanes but with zombies instead of computer hacking and loosened tires) just comes across as a rather anonymous guy who wants to be a hero but isn't quite up to the task, and a girl who can't seem to make up her mind over whether or not she cares about anyone but herself.
It's also got a weird structure, particularly with regards to the obligatory evil military folk. They show up more or less where you'd expect them to in a story, but they get dispatched rather early - there's still like a half hour left when the zombies take the bulk of them out (a lone survivor resurfaces much later). Lance Reddick plays the main hardass (real stretch!), and his character doesn't even get a real death scene. Neither does Marks, who sells the others out in exchange for protection, but we're denied seeing him get his just desserts. And with like 10-15 minutes left to go, one of them finally explains their tragic back-story - something that should have been taken care of in the 2nd act, before he's largely redeemed himself. It'd be like if Al Powell waited until AFTER he took out Karl to explain to John McClane that he hadn't drawn his gun in years.
The rest of the time it's just a lackluster "let's hole up OK let's try to get out of here" zombie tale, with the usual hunts for supplies turning into near-death encounters and crazy schemes being implemented in order to secure rescue (remote control cars with sparklers! A giant human hamster ball!). They really botch the use of the location - Reno didn't shut down for them to make their little zombie movie (it was actually shot in Connecticut; you can even see plates a couple times), so if you're expecting to see a big casino setpiece or even a lot of neon lights you're out of luck - most of it takes place in a nondescript hotel.
At least it delivers on the zombie action. The makeup is quite good, and there's a lot of color to the zombies, with variety as well - there are even a couple of little kid zombies! They're also curiously under-hungry; there are a few scenes where one is ignoring a potential victim because they've already got someone to chew on, which is rare - usually they go after the living as soon as their presence is known. And director Colin Theys has a nifty solution to the "fast or slow zombies?" problem: he offers both. It's the rare zombie movie with an explanation (a radiation bomb), and I guess it effects folks in different ways. I can't remember if that was something from the comic or not, but either way it's a decent enough throwaway explanation that allows for more variety than we usually see, and (theoretically) a way to please everyone.
Also, one change from the comic is actually for the better - the zombies don't talk here. They weren't exactly garrulous (that would be loquacious, verbose, effusive. How about "chatty"?), but I have never shined to talking zombies, even if they're only offering 2-3 word sentences (mostly of the "need flesh" variety). They even recreate the reveal scene from the comic - Tori sarcastically asks a zombie on the street below if she wants to talk; originally the zombie replied, but this one just looks. The final issue of the comic is also largely recreated here, with Tom teaming up with the remaining military person (Tawny Cypress) - much to Tori's dismay - as they set off an explosion and escape the city for good.
So overall, a harmless but forgettable zombie movie. I didn't exactly love the source material, but it was fun, and I think a better movie could have been made from it. On the other hand, I've seen worse just in the past two months, and those weren't working with the handicap of "this has to be suitable for basic cable". And it's a decent enough start for Chiller's original movie programming (if we're comparing to other Niles-centric films, it's better than the DTV 30 Days Of Night sequel, that's for sure!), which I hope continues as the channel continues to grow. As long as it doesn't mean the end of their Chiller 13 specials, as those are an excellent way to spend 90 minutes - what can be better than listening to charming, handsome horror experts discuss the genre? :)
What say you?