JULY 29, 2012
According to the IMDb, Shawn Darling served as the director, writer, producer, editor, composer, music editor, location scout, puppeteer, camera operator, props guy, make-up designer, and sound recordist for Grave Mistake, plus played one (or more?) of the zombies. Suffice to say, if there was anyone to praise or blame for the film, it would be him, as that has to be a record (and I swear I saw his name a few more times in the end credits) for most jobs performed on a single feature.
Ordinarily I scoff at this; I believe that the more jobs you take on a film, the less focused you'll be on doing any of them to the best of your ability, but apart from the script, I think this was a pretty solid effort for a locally produced, next-to no budget horror movie. The pacing was fine, there was a lot of action, the zombies looked good... as long as you know that you're not going to witness the second coming of zombie horror (and have a good tolerance level for the awkward acting and low production value that this sort of movie can't really avoid), then it makes for a decent timekiller. Had it been on the Decrepit Crypt set (it certainly resembles one of those movies), it would have been the uncontested highlight.
The best thing about it is that it admirably kills folks "out of order"; the first two victims of note are the seemingly mentally challenged "survivalist" guy and a kid - both of whom you'd expect to last a lot longer. This allows for some unexpected tension that even the poor acting couldn't ruin, because I never felt that any of the (mostly likable) characters were safe. And there's another zombie attack every 15-20 minutes, so it mostly held my attention - something even the bigger budgeted zombie films of late can't manage.
The zombie makeup is also impressive, considering the number. I'm sure some of the background ones got quick appliances and a quick coat of blue/gray face paint, but the "hero" zombies look pretty damn good to me. And I like the quick turn style of this particular "strain" - it's done with (fairly good) CGI, but seeing someone turn zombie just moments after being bitten was pretty cool. The more advanced CGI effects aren't particularly great, but they're used sparingly and usually for things that couldn't be done practically (at least, not without an expert like Savini to help), like blowing half of a guy's head off as he staggers forward.
Oddly, the bulk of the CGI appears to be for composite shots? Perhaps it was just the way it was lit or something, but I swear the characters aren't really inside of a hardware store or whatever location for several of the shots. You know how the rolling background in car shots always has that detached look that separates it from the interior? Many interior scenes looked the same way, but I couldn't see any green tinted hair or anything, so perhaps it was just a lighting issue of some sort (the transfer was pretty lousy, so that didn't help either). They definitely weren't driving though; at one point the hero - while supposedly driving at fast speed - turns to the back of the car, takes out a zombie, argues with one of the other passengers, has a heart to heart with another one... all without ever looking back at the road. It's like that bit in Last Action Hero but without the apparent humor.
No, sadly the humor comes from that old standby of zombie movies - naming everything after zombie "legends", so you have characters with names like Savini or Nicotero (there's also a Linnea, which I don't think I've heard before). The most grating is "Campbell's Mental Institution" - since when do places like that have a possessive in their name? Darling is also too eager to toss in some in-jokes, with his other movies playing on TV and an overlong, poorly edited commercial for a BBQ place starring the boom operator and her family. There's clearly a lot of effort here, so this wasn't intended to just show to friends and family, so I wish he was a bit more discerning when it came to this sort of stuff, as non-friends (i.e. 99% of the presumed audience) won't have any appreciation for this stuff, and it sticks out like a sore thumb to boot.
I was also a bit puzzled by the secondary group of characters, who are introduced as being part of some sort of LARP group - a convenient way to have them equipped with weapons AND armor. Not only does Darling cut back to them so infrequently that I kept forgetting that they even existed, but the hero of the group comes off as a psychotic. His fiance is killed early on, but instead of breaking down like a normal human being, he seemingly snaps, sticking "in character" and using "Olde English" for the rest of the movie. But it also seems to be being played for laughs, which would just make him an asshole who kept playing his silly game even though his girlfriend was murdered. It's really weird, and the uneven distribution between his group and the other one makes it even harder to get a firm grip.
But look. I've seen dozens of these things that couldn't even get the basics right, so I can forgive pretty much all of the above. I was impressed by the film's scope and effort, and that's a hell of a lot more than I was expecting, especially considering the low entertainment value of most of the indies I find on these Echo Bridge 4 packs (like The Dead Sleep and Witchcraft 13). Kudos to Darling and his crew, and I look forward to seeing their future endeavors.
What say you?