JANUARY 1, 2012
Tempting the fates, I once again opted to start the New Year with a horror comedy, as I did in 2011 with the mostly lousy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead (though I didn’t realize the coincidence until later). Luckily, Aaah! Zombies! (formerly the far grimmer Wasting Away) turned out to be a pretty solid zom-com, delivering a decent hit/miss ratio regarding the laughs and a likable, game cast to boot. But even more impressive was how it creatively approached a fairly standard zombie outbreak story.
As is often the case, military tomfoolery has resulted in zombie-making serum getting into the wrong hands, with innocent and fun-loving young folks caught in the middle. There’s an obvious Return Of The Living Dead influence here, except the punks have been replaced with slacker types. And if writer/director Matthew Kohnen (and co-writer Sean Kohnen) weren’t ambitious, this could be a pretty forgettable flick if that was all there was to it. However, at its core is a pretty ingenious idea – what if the movie was told from both points of view?
When we’re seeing things from the human’s point of view, the movie is black & white and the zombies are the typically veiny/drooling lumbering types. However, during every major sequence, the perspective shifts, and we see things (in color) from the zombies’ point of view. To them, they are still coherent and don’t even look that bad apart from whatever injuries they have endured along the way, nor do they really mean any harm. Even better/funnier, the human characters move around in double speed and have chipmunk/tape on fast forward voices. I was actually kind of shocked at how well the gimmick worked; it wasn’t until the movie was past the hour mark that it started to run out of gas, and by then they were more or less sticking with the zombie POV approach anyway.
I also loved the character of Nick (Colby French), who is also a zombie but has ties with the military and may know the answers. His arc is wonderful; we know he’s not exactly a level 5 clearance type but as we learn more about him he becomes more sympathetic (and thus more human, but by saying that I sound like I’m writing press notes, so let’s ignore it). He’s also part of the movie’s best laugh, when we discover where the toxic serum was supposed to go in the first place (it’s remarkably horrible). Even in some really great zombie films I don’t give a shit about any of the heroes, so to be endeared to one who was actually a zombie was a pretty nice surprise.
Two things nagged at me though. One was the bulk of the 3rd act, which centered on a dumb “talking disembodied head” subplot and a pretty lame climax that sidelined the movie’s central character (Tim, who was like our Dante while Matthew Davis inhabited the Randal role) for too much of the action. Again, the gimmick had kind of run its course by then, so it would have been really great to have a really inventive climax or at least a top notch exciting one to make up for it. Instead we just get a mostly off-screen attack, followed by an abrupt “six months later” type scene that doesn’t really wrap up any of the character storylines.
The other was that the Kohnen’s neglected to milk their gimmick for all it was worth. There’s a goldmine of comedic, stand-alone scenes that could revolve around the “human POV vs zombie POV” approach, but those opportunities are missed. There’s a surprising and unfortunate lack of supporting characters; Richard Riehle disappears for large chunks and Tracey Walter only has a single scene – there should have been more characters like theirs. Not necessarily played by names, but just others to interact with in some way. For example, think of the Johnstown sequence in Dawn of the Dead (where “those rednecks are probably enjoying the whole thing”) – how awesome would it be to have this sort of stand-alone sequence with new characters/new situations and problems to tackle with the two POV approach? Instead, we’re always with the same five people throughout, and by the time they’ve added a few zombies to their roster, it’s a bit too late in the narrative for such diversions.
Speaking of that scene – unless I missed something, it seems they broke their own rule, as our hero zombies converse with humans for quite a while like nothing’s unusual, and bowl over one of the girls – it’s only after a victor has been decided that the non-zombie folks notice anything’s wrong with them. But the scene is largely set to “Take The Skinheads Bowling”, so I guess I can forgive them. Also, the opening “evolution of man” animation is so good that I can pretty much forgive anything in the movie.
I am less forgiving about the lack of extras on the disc though! All that’s there is a music video, which is admittedly a fun spot with a catchy tune (and it’s sort of a theme song!), but that’s it? A video I can watch on Youtube? I would have loved a commentary – not only are they the rare zom-com filmmakers with a genuinely smart idea behind their movie, but they’re in some interesting LA locales (like by that bridge that Jack was going to jump off on Lost!) and even their CGI effects are pretty good. In other words, it would probably be a good commentary to listen to, but alas. Not even a damn trailer on this disc. You go to hell, Level 33!
What say you?