DECEMBER 30, 2016
There's a long-standing theory that if Halloween III was just titled Season of the Witch, it would have been a bigger hit*, and we'll never know if it's true or not. But I DO know that if The Rezort didn't have such a stupid title, I might not have had such low expectations for it going in, so there's definitely something to be said about how important a title is and how it affects one's perception of what they're about to see. With the dumb misspelling (which I mocked repeatedly on Twitter), I figured this was some Asylum level zombie schlock in the vein of House of the Dead or something, but as it turns out, the errant Z is the only goofy thing about the film - it's actually a fairly serious, largely enjoyable zombie flick, the kind that I thought would be playing multiplexes in the wake of World War Z, but always seem to be DTV efforts.
I also would have had higher expectations if I knew beforehand that the film was directed by Steve Barker, who previously impressed with the first two Outpost films (he did not make the 3rd one, and it was not very good). Like Outpost, the movie takes a B-movie kind of plot and carries it out with an A-level amount of effort, elevating it above its brethren in ways the average watcher (who doesn't overdose on this junk like seasoned viewers might) might not notice. Sure, it's not a great movie, but it's worth seeing, which is more than I can say for the likes of Zombie Massacre 2 and Army of Frankensteins (or even Cell, which had a bigger budget than those two and this combined), and if you're looking for more traditional zombie action than Walking Dead provides (i.e. without all the tired monologues and "humans are worse" stuff), it should satisfy and then some.
Oddly enough the last zombie movie I remember liking more than I imagined I would was Zoombies, which was heavily inspired by the Jurassic Park films, and this actually goes a step further by pretty much directly copying JP's concept, albeit with zombies you can hunt instead of dinosaurs you can look at (if they show up). The titular "rezort" is a pricey vacation spot on a private island for folks to come and take down masses of captured zombies, both in the wild (roaming around in fenced in areas where the shooters are safely on hills nearby) and in shooting gallery type scenarios where they're secured to targets that pop out as you make your way through corridors and alleyways. And like in JP, too much of the security relies on malfunctioning computers and electric fences, and when Nedry- er, a blond woman messes with the system, the zombies get free and our protagonists need to make their way back to safety without any protection in place or vehicle to use.
And that's pretty much it, and I say that as a compliment - it's refreshingly straightforward and fast-paced enough to be exciting but without making us numb or leaving character development by the wayside in their attempts to keep "stuff happening" at all times. Our heroes are a pretty decent and varied lot, from a typically brooding mystery man (Dougray Scott) to a jilted would-be bride who got the trip as a wedding gift and decided to go solo, to a pair of 16 year olds (no age limit, I guess) who won the trip on a contest sponsored by the Call of Duty-esque online shooter that they play. These two provide the movie with one of its few jokey moments, as they are apparently amazing at their video game but (no surprise) can't aim worth a damn in the real world, blasting away at the dirt and the zombie's feet when going for headshots. They're probably the closest the movie gets to annoying characters, and they're not even that bad (and they're SUPPOSED to be obnoxious, anyway), which was also a relief - I actually liked pretty much everyone and wasn't happy to see anyone die when they did. Hell, even the obligatory asshole who leaves his friends behind to save his own ass wasn't really that much of a prick.
I also like that we get just enough of a glimpse of how the park actually operates on a normal day, something I wish Jurassic World had offered more of (I really wish the Operation Genesis game was revived for new consoles, post-World - I'd play the hell out of that) even though I understand that "things going wrong" is what we're here to see. There's a great bit where one of the guides mutters his "great job, you're doing awesome" to what is probably his 1000th group of middle-aged businessmen living out their Rambo fantasies as they shoot down (secured, distant) zombies, and they also make them gun train and such before heading out. Also, unlike Jurassic, they actually have a goddamn plan for when things go to shit, though it's hardly enticing: they basically just blow the island to smithereens via jets dropping explosives on it (like at the end of The Rock, sans Nic Cage and his green flares), so our heroes have two threats - staying away from the zombies, and getting off the island before it's blown up. Not the most original scenario on the planet, but it works as well as it needs to, with some added personality and a few clever touches here and there for flavor.
It's also not as overly digital-ed as I've come to wearily "accept", for lack of a better word. Bullet hits tend to be digital (foregone conclusion nowadays - I think they lost the recipe for squibs), but when things get up close and personal they favor practical work. There isn't much gore, I should note, but there's enough to satisfy, and the "less is more" approach extends to the zombie numbers - Barker understands that seeing 1,000 digital zombies isn't nearly as interesting as seeing a few dozen real ones for "shit hits the fan" moments, so everything's on the up and up there, too. Really, the only thing working against it (besides the phony looking news footage at the top and bottom of the film - why can't digital artists ever make these graphics look legit? They're using the same programs the stations have!) is that you and I have both seen plenty of "We have to escape the zombies and get to safety" movies before, and it operates more or less exactly like them; the setup is new enough but once everything goes to hell it doesn't much matter (they wipe out the anonymous park goers and staff members pretty quickly). There is a pretty interesting concept regarding where the zombies come from, but it's underplayed (saved for a sequel? The movie ends almost exactly like Outpost 2 did, now that I think about it), and we never learn much about Scott's character - these things probably could have given it a little more of its own identity if embellished.
But as it is, like I said, it's not an essential viewing, but it's much better than I had any reason to believe it would be given the current state of indie/low-budget zombie fare and movies that misspell words for their title. I've ranted before about how people seem to forget that there's a middle ground, and not everything is "amazing" or "shitty". Sometimes (in fact, a lot of times) it's fine to watch a movie that's just enjoyable for what it is, and nothing more. Rogue One is currently on the verge of breaking $500m in the US alone, which will put it in the top 10 of all time, and that too is a movie that's just perfectly OK (but it has Darth Vader and some familiar music, so people see it over and over). It's a shame that these two movies, that I'd give the exact same grade to if I was a grading type, will be judged in entirely different ways by the masses (and by history; I doubt anyone will remember The Rezort in ten years) just because one has the right title to connect, and the marketing to get it out there (indeed, this has actually been playing fests for over a year but I never even heard of it until I was assigned to watch it for my job). Hopefully a couple of you will check it out and feel the same way. And yay, I get to end 2016's batch of reviews on a high note! Happy New Year!
What say you?
*Halloween III actually sold more tickets than Halloween 4, the series' "comeback". I always found that funny.