Zoombies (2016)

APRIL 21, 2016


I'm not sure *when* it happened exactly, as it was probably a gradual thing, but somewhere along the line The Asylum actually figured out how to make their movies enjoyable. Sure, every now and then they would luck into a movie that didn't make me wish I was dead, like Mega Piranha and the (legitimately fun) Zombie Apocalypse, but everything I've seen of late has been at least watchable, often rather amusing. And I can't believe that it's just coincidence and I just HAPPEN to be seeing the "best" of the lot - I truly think movies like Zoombies are what they're often producing; the rule, not the exception (I saw another called Night of the Wild that was a killer dog flick - also pretty fun for what it was). I'm sure they still churn out some stinkers, but it seems the days of Monster and Paranormal Entity are behind them, thankfully.

They've also shied away from straight up mockbusters, opting for something inspired by a big budget movie but not copying it right down to the title. So while this movie is clearly taking cues from Jurassic World (our business-savvy heroine is trying to keep her zoo fresh, she has a kid with her, etc, etc.) and the original Park (it's not open yet), it's not about dinosaurs - it's a traditional zoo with standard animals, except that they've all turned into zombie like predators due to some experiment gone awry. So instead of getting variety via dinosaur types (a T-Rex attack, then a raptor chase, etc.) we get setpieces with different animals entirely - monkeys, giraffes, an ape, birds, even elephants get in on the action, usually with one big sequence of their own. This actually creates a pretty fun smorgasbord of dangers and tasks - the bigger animals are of course dangerous anyway (zombie or not, watch out for a stampeding elephant), and the otherwise harmless birds pose the biggest threat of all as they can fly to populated areas and infect the rest of the world.

It's also got a better script than Jurassic World, though that bar isn't exactly a high one. The characters are all cliches, but at least they behave consistently from scene to scene and never really act like they're brain-damaged in order to advance the plot, like the JW ones did (i.e. walking into a pen with a monster dinosaur to look for it, rather than check the tracker it supposedly has). Things pay off, such as the tough animal control lady who berates an intern for not knowing how to shoot, and later he's able to fire the same comeback (something like "then you better learn quick!") to her when she confesses a weakness, a far cry from World's baffling decision to spend a giant chunk of its first act on the older brother's obsession with girls when it in no way influences anything on what happens to them later. And the interior logic more or less works - it's B-movie nonsense, of course, but I can't recall an instance where I literally yelled "WHAT?" at the screen as I did during what would become the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time (for a few months anyway, Star Wars knocked it down a peg. It's still about 9000 spots too high).

Of course, a better script probably means little to people who just want to see carnage, and on that front it delivers - as long as you accept that the FX are gonna be bad. I mean, I've seen worse, and in movies with far less of them to boot, but they're still a long way from looking good ("decent" would even be stretching it for a few). But there's an energy to the scenes themselves and the movie as a whole that makes them easier to deal with - sure, two giraffes tearing a guy apart isn't going to win the animators any awards, but consider the fact that it's TWO GIRAFFES TEARING A GUY APART! Bad FX tend to really sting when you can think of all the times you've seen it done right, but it's not like I've ever seen a photo-real shot of two giraffes tearing a guy apart, so it's fine. I mean, the movie is called Zoombies and the Asylum likes to put their name in big block letters at the top of the film - I was not expecting Oscar-level work here, and if anything incredible FX would almost be a detriment - it might be less fun in a way.

That said, it actually DOES offer one creepy/kinda scary bit, which I wasn't expecting. First there's a parrot who keeps repeating his victim's final words over and over, and then we see an eagle (I think? Some bird like that) who has made a nest out of a victim's intestines - and she's still alive to relay this information ("it's nesting in meeeeee!"). It was almost kind of disturbing, and certainly not what I was expecting to see at any point in this movie. I'd even go so far as to say that it didn't really belong in this particular movie, but I think part of the reason it played like that is because the bird FX, for whatever reason, were better than those of the larger animals. Strangely, the absolute worst FX shot in the entire movie was animal-free - it was a sequence where some characters finally use the zipline that had been foreshadowed twice already, shot by clearly just putting the actors on a harness and not even actually dangling them in front of the green-screen. If you look at their arms they're not even being stretched, so the director didn't even bother having them hang and just let them stand on something while they said their lines in front of the green backdrop that would be (poorly) added in later. I almost had to laugh that they somehow managed to take the only part of the movie that they could have possibly shot for real and make it look faker than any of the fantastical nonsense around it (you can also hilariously see through actress Kim Nielsen's striking light blue eyes during a commercial for the zoo, as they got filtered out along with the colored screen behind her).

Another thing I enjoyed is that the main building for the zoo was the same shooting location from Dead Heat and Brain Dead (and other movies), which prompted me to finally look into its actual location as I knew it had to be Los Angeles somewhere. And by look into I mean emailed my friend Jared, who did the legwork while I just tweeted nonsense or whatever it was I did until he got back to me. Oddly enough, while I figured it was in one of the more isolated areas of the county (like Santa Clarita, where they shoot almost every low budget horror movie), it was actually in Van Nuys - and I had driven past it on my way to work that morning! I mean it's far enough off the road that I probably wouldn't be able to see it from my car window anyway, but I don't usually drive that way in the morning, it just happened that the traffic patterns elsewhere had Waze send me on that road (which happens maybe 1 in 20 morning commutes). And I had no idea I'd be watching Zoombies today either, so it was just the lamest and least consequential form of fate in human history.

Oh, and the guy who ignores his friends' pleas and puts himself in grave danger to save an endangered animals gets killed by said endangered animal, which is the kind of mean-spirited outcome I really like. But if mean-spiritedness ain't your thing, it's also worth noting that the movie offers two heroines; Nielsen's Bryce Dallas Howard stand-in plus the head guard (the Chris Pratt, I guess?), and neither of them have heels on as far as I know.

Look, I'm not saying you need to track this down or put it on your must-watch list or anything, but all things considered, I found it to be a pretty harmless and enjoyable little slice of B-movie nirvana. Everyone involved (well, maybe not all of the actors) knew exactly what kind of movie they were making and were smart enough to know that simply offering amazing shots for a trailer isn't going to win anyone over (looking at you, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus). The characters were largely likable (even the obligatory bitchy girl had an appealing moment or two) and despite their probably very limited budget, they delivered - in their own way - exactly what I wanted from the concept of "zoo animals turn into zombies" (indeed, even my half-jokey tweet demanded zombie elephants and monkeys - and they offered both!), as opposed to their many, many films that barely live up to the title let alone the concept. You don't even need to "turn your brain off" to enjoy the movie - you just have to meet it on its own terms.

What say you?


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