Don't Breathe (2016)

AUGUST 26, 2016


I've often noted that the home invasion sub-genre has limited options for as much variety as you see in slashers, survival horror, etc. This doesn't mean the films are getting bad, but it's gonna take some inspired ideas to keep the concept fresh, and that's precisely what Fede Alvarez has done with Don't Breathe, a home invasion movie that swaps the usual roles, making our heroes into the ones that enter someone's home while the villain is the guy that actually lives there. It's not a deconstruction or anything like that, but it offers those same kind of moments and thrills all while playing up the notion that our heroes aren't in their comfort zone this time - they're not even sure how to find their way around the predictably oversized home, with a labyrinthine basement and man-sized air ducts, and a dog that gets to be a mini-villain instead of just getting offed like the poor mutts usually do in these things when the bad guy needs to reduce threats.

Of course, the real hook of the movie isn't the inverse invasion idea - it's the fact that the villain (Stephen Lang) is a blind man. He's no saint (bro), and his senses of smell and hearing have been attuned to make up for the lack of sight, but what really works about the film is that (save for a bit at the end) he's not preternaturally gifted with a sense of perception like Daredevil or Eli (the one with the Book). Lang is fond of firing his gun, but he's a horrible shot; the only times he manages to hit anything of note it's basically by chance, and ends up destroying more of his own stuff than the damn robbers. He also makes plenty of mistakes that he wouldn't had he been able to see; there's a great example in the 3rd act that I can't really illustrate (it involves garden shears), and even with his attuned hearing he walks right past our heroes more than once without realizing that they were within reach. The movie even finds a few moments of levity related to his disability - there's an upside down framed photo in his living room that I couldn't help but smirk at even though it's not exactly the most PC gag in the world.

In fact, I wish Alvarez had spent more time on the sequence where Lang isn't aware anyone else is in the house with him. As anyone who has seen the trailer knows, our heroes are a trio who break into his home, but when he catches and kills one, he is under the impression the man was working alone. There's about 10-15 minutes (less?) where he works to clean up the body and reinforce the entry points, most of which involves the other two having to stay quiet/still to not give their position away, and to me this was more satisfying and even suspenseful than the more traditional cat and mouse stuff that followed. Not that the latter half lacks thrills - Lang's the one who knows his way around, after all, so every single escape attempt (and subsequent scare) is capped with him showing up to block their path, a standard villain move that makes a lot more sense here than in the average slasher. Of COURSE he'll get ahead of them - they're often going slow trying to stay quiet and also trying to find their way around, whereas he's spent who knows how many years finding his way around the place in the same darkness they're currently battling. It never feels like a cheat when he "teleports" somewhere - I totally buy that he'd be able to move around with precision and use their unfamiliarity with the layout to his advantage.

But the quieter bits offered that kind of breath-holding audience experience - you can hear a pin drop in the theater when Jane Levy or Dylan Minnette accidentally step on a creaky board or find themselves pinned down in a bathroom or something as he goes about his business. By the end, they're not even trying to be quiet half the time - it's just stalk n' chase fare with a hook. To put it another way, if he wasn't blind, the first chunk of the movie wouldn't make any sense, but (save for his poor marksmanship) the rest would pretty much play out the same. The film already feels a bit like The People Under The Stairs (poor people robbing some asshole to better their shitty lives), right down to the dog that can pursue them in smaller areas, so I wish there was more opportunity for the blind factor to play a part in his pursuit. I mean, hell, near the end he manages to find Levy like a block away (before you cry spoiler, the movie opens with him bringing her back to his house before rewinding to see how she got into that situation), so I'd be lying if I said I preferred the perverse sight (heh) of a borderline Michael Myers not even knowing he had a couple of victims in the same room.

Also (now THIS is spoiler territory, skip this paragraph if you wish) the script described a bit too much of a hellish life for our heroine to escape from, making it far from likely that she'd be killed or even that she'd somehow escape without the money. It's not enough that her mom was just a drunk that didn't care (in the one scene we get of her home life, she takes care of her little sister while the mom gets drunk on the couch, mumbling insults her way), but we also find out she was abused (locked in a trunk!), and to top it off she promises her little sister that she's going to take her away from their Detroit hellhole in favor of California. In other words, there is little to no doubt she will succeed, so the suspense factor is a bit crippled. Faring better in that department is Minnette's character, who seems to have an OK life and is seemingly just doing this because he's in love with her. When Lang sets his non-sights on Minnette, I felt myself tensing up again, but for her, apart from one diversion I won't spoil (except to say that it yields an INCREDIBLE sight gag involving a stray hair or two), I never really felt she was in any real danger, because I am too attuned to major studio horror movies (even R-rated ones) to buy the idea that she'd be killed off and that poor little sister would be abandoned. Minnette's less noble motives made his survival chances a lot smaller, and in turn his scenes (they're split up more often than not, I think) get back a lot of that nailbiter suspense that was reduced once Lang was on the prowl.

Another thing in the movie's favor is that Lang isn't just some mindless psycho - he's even kind of sympathetic in a few moments. The reason he has money is because he got a big settlement from a rich family whose daughter killed his in a car accident, and it's downright heartbreaking when they find him sleeping with a home video. of his 3-4ish daughter playing and singing playing in the background. He obviously can only hear the sounds of his daughter that was taken away from him so cruelly, and (over emotional dad alert!) in that moment I was suddenly paralyzed with fear that the tape would somehow get broken over the course of the evening. Like, grab the money and leave, fine - but please don't take away his sleeping aid! And a later plot development allows us to feel kind of bad for him (in an icky way) as he deals with another loss - it was unexpected and beneficial to the film's overall strength. I know I called him Michael Myers before, but there's a real guy in there that surfaces every now and then - just enough to keep balance, because while he's "the bad guy", he's also a guy defending his home and property from robbers. In People Under the Stairs, Fool was kind of suckered into the crime - these three are all old enough to know right from wrong.

Speaking of spoilers, I was also happy to realize the trailer was built mostly on scenes from the film's first half. It still gives too much away, I think (i.e. the existence of another person in the house, if not their actual role in the proceedings), but at least there's a point where I realized the only reason I knew what was coming was due to the film's own dumb choice to show a scene from near the end right at the top. It's thankfully vague compared to some others that have pulled this stunt, but there's enough info in what we see - and what we DON'T see - to make me wish they rethought this decision. I get what they're trying to do, in order to "surprise" us later, but it's too obvious that's the plan - better to just not set up that sort of thing at all rather than let us watch the movie wondering when the movie will "catch up" to what we already saw.

Ultimately, I'm surprised I was able to write seven paragraphs about the movie, because what really works about it is how simplistic it is. No one shows up to help the heroes (i.e. a cop who heard a disturbance or whatever), the house is big without being silly (no Halloween: Resurrection style endless basement/tunnel section), no one has long passages of dialogue, etc. It's just lean and efficient, and dark enough to earn its R rating without becoming nihilistic and unpleasant - and far more satisfying to me than Alvarez' previous film, the Evil Dead remake (Sam Raimi apparently still stands by it - he produced this one too). Since it's built on suspense and borderline plotless, I'm not sure I'd ever revisit it (plus I'm not sure I could handle the goofy ladybug shit again), but for the one time it's a damn satisfying thriller that gets more right than wrong, and continues the unprecedented horror hit streak - all five of this summer's major horror releases (this, Purge 3, Conjuring 2, Shallows, and Lights Out) were winners, something that's even more impressive when you consider how weak the big tentpoles have been on average. And even though I don't particularly love the Evil Dead remake, I can certainly agree that Alvarez is no hack, and I hope he sticks around in the genre for a while.

What say you?

P.S. There's a new Screen Gems logo attached to the film, so I feel obligated to share this again instead of the trailer that gives too much away.


Necrophobia 3D (2014)

AUGUST 16, 2016


It's rare, but every now and then I see an underwhelming movie at (or, in this case, out of) Fantastic Fest, and my reaction is always the same: I've done something wrong as a viewer. The festival is so fun and its programmers so like-minded (yes, before anyone points it out - I work for one of them), and most of what I see is, even if I don't love it, at least so nutty or unique that I can ADMIRE it, that those odd lackluster entries almost make me feel bad for saying so. Such is the case with Necrophobia 3D, which played at the festival in 2014 - a year I missed due to my son's recent birth, but had I been there I almost certainly would have been at one of its showings, as on paper it sounds exactly like my kind of thing. Plus I still get a kick out of legitimate 3D when used properly, and lacking a home set I usually make extra efforts to see them in their native gimmicky glory.

But this would have been one of those screenings where I start looking at my food instead of the screen, because it landed in that decidedly un-sweet spot of being both hard to follow and also not particularly compelling - the movie didn't do enough to make piecing together its narrative worth the effort. It's got a good hook: a giallo-esque thriller about a man whose twin brother dies and then everyone in his life starts following him to the grave, but there are no viable red herrings to keep the "mystery" afloat, so you're just waiting for the obvious reveal. When it comes, rather early (then again the movie is only 75 minutes with credits so even scenes in the 3rd act are "rather early"), I started wondering if it was a misdirect, and one of the other characters would turn out to be the REAL culprit, but that didn't happen. Instead...

(OK, spoilers are coming!)

...the movie keeps doubling down on its central "twist", which is a Raising Cain kinda deal with multiple incarnations of the same character. Whether they're figments of his imagination or actual physical beings that have come to life somehow, I'm not sure - I even rewatched the last 25 minutes or so and still couldn't come down hard on either answer. Then writer/director Daniel de la Vega throws a fun but even less coherent time travel element into the proceedings, showing that the mysterious phone call our protagonist got near the beginning of the film was sent by one of his doubles here at the end of the (otherwise linear) movie. It's the sort of twist that'd be great if it was the only one in a film (and, you know, had some logical way of occurring), but it's one too many for the film, which - again - already suffered from simply not being particularly engaging. Our killer wipes out all of the supporting cast almost as soon as they become important, and even a 75 minute movie should have time for more than 5-6 important characters - ESPECIALLY for an alleged mystery.

Plus there's no real story. The brother dies, our main man Dante freaks out, then the wife is killed, he freaks out, then a priest is killed... you get the gist. Not that any of the classic giallo movies had current-day narratives that were really terrific, but you'd get the nutty backstory and colorful cast of characters to make up for it, not to mention the usually stylish murder sequences. Here, most of them are fairly quick - the priest is offed almost the second Dante leaves the room, instead of de la Vega giving us a nice buildup with the guy wandering around his church and being pursued by the gloved killer. In fact, I often wondered why they bothered with the 3D - apart from a couple of the scenes where Dante was having a mental collapse, and maybe (if done well) the wide shots of his tailor workshop (mannequins pop up with frequency), there wasn't anything in the film that seemed like it would benefit from the technology, so I am curious what inspired them to do it that way in the first place. If it was five years ago, sure - every other movie was in 3D, it seems. But this was shot in 2013, when 3D was already past its peak popularity, so who knows. Maybe they got a tax break or something? Whatever the reason, not counting post-converts it's the most pointless 3D entry I can recall since the woeful Julia X.

The titular phobia is equally pointless in the narrative - it's the fear of being near a dead body, but this isn't something particularly worth revolving a movie around. For starters, it's not like this is some weird tic - who the hell DOES want to be around dead bodies (well, I'm sure there's a term for it, but it'd be more interesting to watch), and phobia or not, all of the people who die in the movie are very close to him, making his inability to be around them kind of understandable. When a protagonist suffers from a phobia, part of the filmmaker's job is to get the audience - who presumably doesn't feel that way for the most part - to walk in his shoes a little bit. Agoraphobia movies usually do a fine job with this; you and I don't feel any particular fear of going outside, so they will employ heightened sound effects, off-kilter angles, etc. to make the act of walking out the front door seem like a herculean feat. Here, actor Luis Machin just sort of yelps and staggers around, which I'm guessing lots of people would do if they found their brother or wife dead. And by the halfway point he's around corpses in every other scene anyway so it's not even a "thing" anymore.

On the plus side, Machin does a fine job with the various incarnations of his character; the main one, Dante, is kind of a Toby Jones-y nebbish, but the others are like Richard Lynch level menacing - it's a shame we don't get to see much of his brother Tomas, since we'd get a fleshed out third version. Also, I'm sure it wasn't intentional, but the killer's dark appearance and black hat give him a Halloween Man in Black vibe that amused me (especially considering that mystery was equally easy to solve and woefully underwhelming). If the movie threw Druids into the mix I might have actually liked it more, now that I think of it - it's nutty, but not nutty ENOUGH to elevate to "WTF" kind of cinema. It's just got some twists for the sake of having twists, I suspect, and when you consider the 3D, it's not hard to think the movie was an exercise of some sort to try out the cameras for a more elaborate project. You can almost hear a producer asking for some horror script that could be banged out quickly so they could work out the kinks on a movie that would find an audience anyway.

Oh well. I'm all for filmmakers trying to revive the giallo genre, but Necrophobia lacks a lot of the things that make those movies so enjoyable, and doesn't really do anything unique on its own to make up for it. It's watchable enough, and again quite short, so you can't accuse it of wasting too much of your time, but apart from admiring Machin acting opposite himself in a few scenes and the Lost Highway-tinged phone call stuff, there isn't enough here to really make it worth seeking out. I later asked some attendees of that year's Fantastic Fest and few even remembered the title let alone the movie, so it clearly didn't make much of an impression, and I probably would have been downright angry if I picked it over (scans that year's lineup) Spring, Cub, or Let Us Prey to name a few. Of course, that's the nature of fests, and even part of the fun to take such gambles, but it really stings when those gambles don't pay off. The food would have been good though.

What say you?

p.s. I'm not sure when it's coming out to see for yourself, I saw it via screener for my freelance job but that means nothing with regards to a looming release. I couldn't find it on Blu even in other regions, so maybe it's just in limbo? I normally don't bother reviewing movies like this since it defeats the purpose of the site, but it was the only thing I've watched in two weeks thanks to my move (which I'm STILL technically in the middle of doing) and I wanted to post something so you guys knew I wasn't dead.


13 Cameras (2015)

AUGUST 2, 2016


The best thing I can say about 13 Cameras (formerly Slumlord) is that despite a plot (and new title) that revolves around an insane landlord using, er, 13 cameras to film his tenants to get his rocks off, it's NOT a found footage/POV type movie. We see a few moments from his camera angles, of course, but even though the film rarely leaves the house where all of them are placed, writer/director Victor Zarcoff (making his debut here) avoids the temptation to fit in with so many other indie horror films of the past five years. He shot it like a real movie! The cameras are unmanned so no one ever has to awkwardly film a friend's death or a loved one's private conversation with them so we can follow the plot!

Of course, that'd be more exciting if the plot was more interesting. Zarcoff admirably did things right with his directing, but his script left a lot to be desired, and while a motive is never necessary for my horror movie killers, the character work is SO stripped down that it almost feels like we were perhaps supposed to supply our own. Certain Friday the 13th characters have more going on than anyone in this movie: we have our (jerk) husband Ryan who cheats on his (insecure) wife Claire with his (uh... pretty?) secretary Hannah, all under the watchful eye of their (crazy) landlord. That's pretty much it; I kept hoping there would be some wrinkle to the proceedings, a slick twist that would make up for the generic scenario, but nope. Nothing even justifies how dumb our heroes have to be for the plot to work, which makes it even harder to deal with.

For example, Ryan always has the secretary come to the home he shares with Claire for them to have their rendezvouses. For the life of me I can't understand why anyone would do this - obviously he waits until his wife goes out with friends to have his mistress come over, but Claire is pregnant - she can come home early unexpectedly due to being tired/sick/etc. (believe me, many a night with my own mistress - my Xbox - was 'ruined' during my wife's pregnancy when she'd no longer feel up to the plans she made). We are given no reason to believe Hannah has a spouse of her own, so why don't they just go to her place? Oh, right - because then the landlord couldn't spy on them. Throughout the movie I kept believing that we had to buy into this idiocy because it would turn out that the landlord was creepy but also believed in family values or something and would give Claire evidence of her husband's infidelity (or even less complicated - she merely finds his monitors and presumable recordings and finds out for herself as a result of his surveillance). But no! She finds out because the idiot tells his drinking buddy, who tells his own wife - Claire's best friend.

I also toyed with the idea that maybe the landlord would be the hero of the movie, because for a brief period Hannah gets a bit Glenn Close and starts calling in the middle of the night, stopping by for awkward exchanges with Claire, etc. It'd be kind of fun if she turned it up a notch and the landlord was forced to give away his surveillance game (which we know he uses to pleasure himself - the movie offers a lovely visual of him cleaning up his mess after watching them shower) in order to rescue his tenants from a crazy woman. But again, the movie can't be bothered to do anything that interesting - at some point the landlord kidnaps her and chains her up in the house, soundproofing the walls so that Ryan and Claire can't hear her screaming all day. As for how this works, the landlord tells them that one locked door leads to an owner's closet (is that a thing?), and even though they break it open fairly early on (looking for tools) they don't really investigate the basement that it leads to, seemingly forgetting all about it shortly thereafter. I have a cupboard in my home that I've never used (and never will - we're being forced to move next week due to the owner selling our place, so forgive me if HMAD goes silent for a week or two!) and it kind of bugs me - these folks let an entire FLOOR slip their mind.

And true to form, the film does nothing interesting with the idea that a married couple is oblivious to the fact that the husband's mistress is tied up in their basement. Even when they inevitably discover her, Claire doesn't really freak out - Ryan goes running around with a bat looking for the landlord while the two of them hide in the bathroom, with zero awkwardness to it. At this point I've wondered "Why did they bother?" about far too many of the film's subplots, so (spoilers ahead) I couldn't even care much when it ends with a ton of unanswered questions - the landlord kills Ryan and Hannah and kidnaps Claire, keeping the baby for himself. Zarcoff even doubles down on the dumbness of this by including a scene where two cops look around seven weeks later, acting on the landlord's behalf who apparently called them after they failed to pay rent and have seemingly vanished. Are we to believe that a man who has a full time job (seemingly an important one since he has an assistant), a woman who keeps in touch with her mother frequently, and best friends who get involved in their marital problems would disappear with no one besides their GODDAMN LANDLORD calling the cops about their disappearance? Even ignoring the fact that the landlord is hardly a normal looking guy (he looks like Stacy Keach playing Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and talks like Billy Bob in Sling Blade) and would likely be looked at with suspicion by the cops (or pretty much anyone who spent more than 30 seconds with him), this is stupid even by horror movie logic. I can meet a movie halfway on shit like this, but Zarcoff is asking me to pick him up from the airport and drive him 1000 miles in the opposite direction.

It doesn't help matters that the heroes... I won't say "deserve to die", because that's harsh, but I certainly didn't care if any of them lived. Ryan has not one redeeming quality to him (even beyond the infidelity, he's just a dick in general, even to the lady he's banging) and Claire doesn't show a lot of backbone in the face of his betrayal - she kicks him out (actually her friend pretty much does) but calls him back almost instantly when she notices a camera, instead of her friend or the cops. As I've said in the past, it's not necessary to love your protagonists - but there should be a point to it. And it certainly shouldn't be a device employed in this kind of movie, where we in the audience should feel creeped out and sympathetic toward the unwitting victims of the voyeurism. Instead I was just kind of feeling sorry for the landlord that he was stuck with these losers.

The movie showed at Screamfest last year under the Slumlord title; I remember reading the description and thinking it would be found footage (plus Hangman - which I DID like - had a fairly similar plot and two of such things in one week would be pushing it) which is why I skipped it, so I'm glad I made the right call. Even if I fell asleep in the theater it wouldn't have been worth being stuck with it - at least at home on this screener I was able to break up the viewing in two chunks. I don't know why they changed the title to something so lame (plus it starts on a collage of *15* camera angles, starting things off on the wrong foot), especially since the only thing the movie really has going for it is the "slumlord" character - it's almost fascinating watching someone so completely unhinged be treated normally by every other character. If only the movie was more about his day to day life than the sods we're forced to watch along with him; I'd probably be down for a Slumlord 2. 14 Cameras? Not so much.

What say you?


Train To Busan (2016)

JULY 28, 2016


I'm sure there ARE some, but as far as HMAD (and thus, my memory) is concerned, I've never seen a traditional, non-comedic zombie film out of Asia until now. Train To Busan takes the usual "band of strangers" zombie movie concept and applies it to a fast-moving train, and takes the concept quite seriously - there are a few character-based lines that are funny, but otherwise it's more dramatic than "fun". It didn't even really dawn on me until the zombies really started appearing en masse that I had never seen a Korean (or Chinese, or Japanese, etc) film like it before, when I tried thinking of how others had depicted their own undead and then realized that I had nothing to really compare it to. Again, I'm sure there are some others I just missed, but overall the film I kept recalling was World War Z.

And that turned out to be apt, because I also realized (a bit later) that the film was clearly PG-13, or at least the South Korean equivalent of it (turns out it was K-15, which would be like the PG-15 rating we've often pushed for but will seemingly never get). There's a lot of action in the film, and our cast is reduced to a very small number by the end, but it's mostly splatter-free (95% of the film's blood is either smeared on a wall or on a surface wound) and the deaths are usually played in the "they are swarmed and pulled down out of frame" way, if not off-screen entirely. As for the zombies, none of them get those sort of classic deaths you cheer for - no one has any really destructive weapons (why would they? Most of them were just on their way to work or whatever) so a few baseball bats courtesy of a traveling high school team are all they really have at their disposal - Dead Rising it is not. Even the film's biggest jerk character, when zombified, gets a pretty mild death as opposed to the crowd-pleasing (read: gory and violent) version you would expect from a big zombie film.

But that's (mostly) fine, it's not a knock on it really. It's not like we're starved for that sort of thing - it's more just a heads up for those who might think they're in for a bloodbath. Instead it's more of a survival adventure in a way - our hero Sok-woo is a generic absentee dad (he missed a recital AND got her a dud gift for her birthday - way to double down on the cliches, movie) who is taking his young daughter to see his ex-wife in Busan. Naturally, the film will show him learn to be a real dad, care about what really matters, and all that stuff. It's not exactly the most original character, but it works well enough when placed in context with another passenger, a man whose wife is pregnant and is trying to be the best dad ever already. They meet when Sok-woo is scrambling through train cars with his daughter and shuts the door behind him, momentarily trapping the couple with zombies in the other car. After some hesitation he lets them in, but the damage is done - the other guy is pissed at him and proceeds to call him "A**hole" or "Douche" throughout the rest of the film.

However, the tone of how he says these things changes - he never calls him by his real name I think, but the insult almost becomes a term of endearment as the film proceeds, as the two save each other more than once and fight alongside each other until the end (the end of one of their lives, I mean - not the end of the movie. More on that soon.), giving the film much of its overall appeal. The other guy (named Sang Hwa) is also the film's resident badass, fighting off most of the zombies himself and getting the best action moment when he swiftly grabs a riot shield while running for the train and uses it to bash some ghouls aside. It's possibly the one real drawback of the limited rating - you know he woulda torn one apart with his bare hands if the censors would allow it. Sok-woo is our main character, but Sang Hwa is the guy you'd want the action figure of, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one hoping for his survival more than they were for Sok-Woo's. The actor was in Nameless Gangster, which I saw at the same cinema (the CGV in LA, which plays Korean films as well as some American ones with Korean subs), and I hope I see him in future ventures - he's got great presence.

As for the other characters, it's a pretty stock set - the young lovers, an elderly pair (sisters, in this case), and, of course, an insufferable prick in a suit who causes several deaths while selfishly protecting himself. Luckily, we don't spend too much time getting to know these people before the outbreak - they each get a quick beat to distinguish them from the extras, but they're all on even ground when the zombies start attacking, making it hard to tell who will die first/become a second main character/etc. The character development comes mostly out of how they act accordingly once their lives are on the line, and the situation is too frantic for them to stop and chat all that often. However, I wish the screenplay had taken the time they spend on Sok-woo's job problems and either cut it out entirely or given it to some of the others, because this stuff is very unnecessary. I don't know if it's a bad translation issue or if these scenes were left over from an earlier draft (or even longer cut of the film), but Sok-woo repeatedly calls into work and gets updates about what cities are safe or quarantined, and also their company's possible connection to what is going on. He's an investment banker, so unless they bought stock in Zombie-Co or something, I can't quite piece together how he is in any way responsible for it. And even if he was, it doesn't really matter to the narrative - there's no attempt at a "cure" or even a bit where people wonder where they came from (they DO refer to them as zombies, however), so it's just needless, go-nowhere exposition that the 118 minute film didn't need.

And that's the other thing - the movie's a bit too long. I was sure that they would eventually stop and get off the train for a bit, because nearly all of these vehicular movies do that (Con Air, Under Siege 2... hell even Speed keeps cutting back to Jeff Daniels at the police station), and also they had the zombie problem contained into a few cars so obviously something had to happen for them to bust out again. But there are actually THREE scenes of the train stopping and our characters getting off slowly, looking around to check for imminent danger and seeking a new shelter (or train, in one case). The appeal is being trapped on a moving vehicle, so stopping three times to get off (one's at the end, to be fair, but it's a lengthy sequence until credits roll) weakens the high-octane feel they're going for. Plus, the first time they get off is the best - they're told to stop where the military will be waiting to bring them to safety (actually quarantine), and make their way from the track through the station down to the place where the military is waiting, only to discover they've all been infected - resulting in a mad rush back to the train. Here's where we get chaos, hero moments, even a few scares - leaving very little for the 2nd stop to introduce beyond a bit of destruction. Reworking this stuff and giving the film one big detour in the middle before getting back on the train and staying there until it was time for the film to wrap up would have improved it overall, I think. It even robs the film of a chunk of its emotional impact, because a major character dies in a sacrificial moment, something that should be paving the way for the big finale, but it's like, barely over halfway through the movie as it turns out, and later someone else dies in almost the exact same way/context, so we should be sad but I'm sitting there thinking "I've already seen this." The very end had me getting choked up because of my now-standard dad traumas (it also swiped a beat from Armageddon for good measure), but had it come closer to the film's other big moving moment, the movie would be a knockout instead of merely "solid".

They got the zombies dead right though. I mentioned World War Z earlier, and they're used in similar ways during the more hectic action scenes - during one of the rushes back to the train two swarms of them collide like waves, causing a pileup with some at the top just kind of tumbling their way back on their feet to pursue their food. There's a terrific bit late in the film where they form almost a sort of net for the others to clamber across - it's such a cool visual, and justifies the stops (for a movie about zombies on a train, its three best zombie moments occur outside), at least in the moment. I also liked how the zombies 'work' here - they're blind, and almost shut down when its dark (train tunnels providing such moments), plus they move in a very spastic manner that gives them a creepier vibe than the average rotting corpse. None of them stand out (except the humans we got to know before they turned zombie, obviously), which is the right way to go about it - they don't distract away from the heroes. If this movie had a line of toys, it'd be of the humans, not "Punk Zombie" or "Nurse Zombie" or whatever the hell.

The film is doing quite well in its US run (it's the first of the CGV movies I've noticed on the box office chart), already nearing the top of Well Go USA's all-time chart for domestic releases, and apparently broke some record or other in Korea, so clearly its finding its audience all over, which is great. I've mentioned before that I'm baffled about how few major zombie movies there are in this day and age - and what few there are tend to be comedic (like last fall's underrated Scouts Guide) or gimmicky (PPZ, though to be fair it wasn't as goofy as I expected). R rating or no, this was a legit zombie horror film with an emphasis on characters and even a sense of adventure - even if it didn't hit every mark well, I'd love to see more like that.

What say you?


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