IMDB, Resident Evil- The Final Chapter“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” on IMDB

Sci-fi/Horror/Action – 2017 – 107 Minutes

We reviewed the first movie back in 2013 for the fourth BEBE, but never followed up on the other five. With this billed as the last entry in the series, we felt we had to at least complete the bookends.

Milla Jovovich returns as Alice, aimless and without hope in the ruins of Washington after the events of the last movie. She learns that Umbrella Corporation is planning to eradicate the few remaining human settlements to pave the way for their utopia. Alice must return to Raccoon City, foil their plans and steal the T-Virus cure they’ve developed to eliminate the undead threat and save humanity.

The bulk of the movie is high concept action. Giant monsters, enormous hordes of zombies and complex set pieces are the name of the game. The more intimate, tense environments of the first movie make lack-luster, significantly less effective appearances later.

The action scenes are overwhelmingly insulting. Jovovich is a marvel, but the unfocused, frenetic editing rarely lets her shine. Despite some interesting settings, the audience is rarely provided enough context for  anything but confusion. Every move is delivered with a dizzying barrage of camera movement, angles, and framing further muddied by strobe, jitter and slow motion effects.

The overall story fares somewhat better. While it’s far from the promised definitive ending, it does wrap the main threads up well enough. It suffers from false urgency and a confused climax, but features quite a bit of fan service.

It’s not a very good movie. At best you can say that this is a serviceable bookend to the story, but that’s being extremely generous. It’s biggest sin, by far, is burying it’s star under layers of ham-fisted editing. Alice deserves better.

“Dawn of the Dead [2004]” on IMDB

Horror – 2004 – 111 Minutes

It’s an absolute classic, but it must be admitted that the original Dawn of the Dead [Our Review] didn’t age excruciatingly well. Youngsters may superficially mock the slang and the styles, but even older folks are likely to cringe a bit at the ham-fisted social commentary (not to mention the rampaging biker gang). A remake was inevitable.

Novice director Zack Snyder was selected to lead the project. Troma Films veteran James Gunn was tapped to write the screenplay; his second studio work after 2002’s tepid live action “Scooby Doo”. Both came to the project with a sincere love of the genre and a deep respect of the original material and made one of the best damn zombie flicks ever.

The original premise remains the same: a ragtag group of survivors find themselves trapped in a shopping mall by legions of the walking dead. The modern group is both more numerous and more eclectic than the original, allowing for more depth and development. Stars Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames may have the lion’s share of screen time, but co-stars Ty Burell, Lindy Booth, Matt Frewer and others are all pitch perfect as well.

The underlying message of rampant consumerism is intact and celebrated in one of the most memorable montages in film: a slice-of-monotonous-life set to Richard Cheese’s masterfully absurd cover of Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness”. It’s an inspired choice that elevates an already excellent treatment into something truly special.

Fans of the original are offered any number of lovely references and homages. Those unfamiliar with the source are given a finely crafted, stand-alone story. This is a classic, no matter how it’s approached and not to be missed.

“Dawn of the Dead [1978]” on IMDB

Horror – 1978 – 127 Minutes

George Romero’s first film, Night of the Living Dead, created the outbreak trope: mobs of reanimated dead mindlessly hunt the living. It explored how people would react to the situation over one, terrifying night. This one logically asks, “what would happen after?”

In the weeks following outbreak, tens of millions have died and society is collapsing. Stephen and Francine work at a Philadelphia TV station, but can see the end coming. Enlisting SWAT officers Roger and Peter to join them, they steal the traffic helicopter and escape the city. They end up in a rural shopping mall, which they clear and make a home in.

With everything a consumer could want in 1978 at their fingertips, the small group sets up house for the long haul. Many of the best scenes revolve around the plans they set into motion to gather supplies and protect themselves. Romero’s writing rarely seems forced to a specific end; rather he creates a situation, places specific personalities into it and sees what might happen.

It took Romero nearly a decade to follow directly on the success of Night of the Living Dead with this semi-sequel. He had kept himself busy with many projects, but after a friend gave him a tour behind the scenes of a local mall he was inspired by the possibilities it provided.

This also marked his second, but far from last, collaboration with effects artist Tom Savini, who would become a legend in zombie genre in his own right. As one might expect, the effects, while tame by later standards, are top notch. This is more impressive considering that, at times, literally hundreds of extras needed to be zombified.

Setting the story in a mall ensures that the film shows its age more than Night. That film’s rustic farm setting and choice of black-and-white pull it out of time. The slang, clothes and chain-smoking pregnant woman undeniably brand this as the seventies; then the height of reckless consumerism.

It earned $55 million on its $1.5 million budget, making it the most successful film of the franchise, overall. While derided by some critics, mostly for its liberal gore, most loved it. Roger Ebert, after giving it four-out-of-four stars, famously said that “nobody ever said art had to be good taste.” 

“It Stains the Sands Red” on IMDB

Horror/Thriller – 2016 – 92 Minutes

Molly wasn’t having the best life before the zombie apocalypse. She used her body to seduce any man that could supply her with enough booze and drugs to forget her past. Her latest was a wannabe gangster in Las Vegas. The only question was whether she’d live long enough to lose her looks and get tossed away down the chain.

Still, she had some luck left. When the zombies appeared her boyfriend knew somebody with a plane at an isolated airfield miles outside the city. All they had to do was get there, and he would fly them to safety. Halfway there, her luck ran out. Now she’s on foot in the desert, miles from the airfield and her only companion is a relentless zombie.

The phrase “Design by Subtraction” may come from video games, but applies perfectly here. The filmmakers stripped traditional zombie stories to their essence. No never-ending horde to throw themselves at never-ending bullets, no eclectic group of survivors forced to work together, nowhere to hide, nowhere to fortify. Simply one desperate woman and one ravenous zombie in a desolate waste.

This part of the story works extremely well. Detractors may mock Molly’s lack of ingenuity in being unable to take out a single zombie, but it fits her character perfectly. This is a woman who’s spent her life as an accessory for others. Somebody else handled important things, not her. Her heroism isn’t simplistic action tropes, it’s simple dogged determination and it reveals itself slowly.

The cinematography is simple and effective. The blinding heat and light of the desert day is contrasted excellently with the pure black cold of the desert night. Wordlessly, the movie never lets us forget that the environment is as, or more, deadly than the zombie.

Later, as additional circumstances are introduced, the movie veers into more traditional territory. While this somewhat tarnishes the purity of the original premise, it does service the story. We’re allowed to see how Molly has gained the confidence to confront her personal demons.

The story ultimately lives or dies on the quality of Brittany Allen’s performance as Molly. It’s a difficult character: she’s selfish, crude and generally unlikable. It’s a testament to Allen’s performance that she (eventually) earns redemption and the empathy of the audience.

By removing unessential elements from traditional stories, the team has created a sharply focused, highly engaging story. Despite a comparatively weak ending, the execution of the core concept and  Allen’s excellent performance makes this a must-see.

Here Alone

“Here Alone” on IMDB

Horror/Drama – 2016 – 98 Minutes

An infection has ravaged the world. Victims are turned into mindless eating machines that will tirelessly hunt and kill anything – or anybody – that they come into contact with. Only the strong and clever can survive and even they live on borrowed time. It’s the plot that’s launched a thousand stories (and a thousand arguments about what constitutes a “real” zombie story, but we’ll let that dead horse lie).

A cliché is most often a crutch; an excuse for lazy filmmakers to stand on the shoulders of others and produce poor, paint-by-numbers facsimiles of their better work. More rarely, they can be liberating; allowing creators to build interesting stories within a familiar framework. They leverage the cliche rather than rely on it to direct them. Happily, this is an example of the latter.

Ann (Lucy Waters [IMDB]) is alone in the Northern woods. She’s developed techniques for dealing with the infected. She still walks the ragged edge of survival, but has come to accept her lot. When Chris (Adam David Thompson [IMDB]) and his step-daughter Olivia (Gina Piersanti [IMDB]) stumble into her life, she needs to reevaluate whether bare survival is enough.

While many of the themes will be familiar, the handling of the characters is deft and mature. Solid, perfectly subdued performances capture the quiet, persistent desperation of the situation. Exposition is provided organically through restrained, well-heeled flashbacks. The script deftly provides enough information to avoid frustration while leaving enough out to maintain interest.

The story doesn’t concern itself with the problems of the world at large. It’s small and deeply human. These three people aren’t working on a cure and they’re not going to kick-start civilization; they’re simply going to survive – or not – quietly, in the woods. The ending is telegraphed and likely to turn off some viewers, yet seems natural for the characters. It also earns points for lacking an inane twist.

The production is a an excellent example of performance-driven, minimalist film making. While those looking for action will be disappointed, others will find a solid, engaging drama.

IMDB, Train to Busan“Train to Busan” on IMDB

Horror/Action – 2016 – 118 Minutes

South Korea has been quietly, persistently producing amazing filmmakers for many years. Heavily influenced by American cinema, these creators have injected a much-needed dose of creativity and originality into many tired genres with action and horror benefiting especially. While the country’s horror is most inspired by regional legends and myths, it should come as no surprise that zombies would eventually be tapped.

Seok-woo (Yoo Gong [IMDB]) is a workaholic who’s neglected his daughter, Soo-an (Su-an Kim [IMDB]), once too often. In a poor attempt to make things up to her, he begrudgingly agrees to escort her, via train, from Seoul to Busan so that she can spend her birthday with her mother. Other passengers tick off various tropes on the roster: a selfish businessman, a pregnant woman and her hen-pecked husband, a high-school baseball team, a pair of elderly sisters and others.

When the stage is properly set, all hell breaks loose. Mechanically, the movie is similar to “28 Days Later” [IMDB]: an unknown sickness turns people into ravenous, rage-filled monsters shortly after they’re bit. The zombies are fast, relentless and beautifully choreographed. Their movement, especially when in groups, is brutally effective and terrifying. The audience is kept further disoriented by a refreshing “verticality”: stairs, upper-story windows and various other methods are used to draw attention in multiple, dizzying directions at once.

Nothing is said about the source of the infection. “Less is more” is the rule and nothing distracts from the breathless, non-stop race for survival. While this means that the characters aren’t particularly deep, they are pleasantly consistent and true-to-life. Focus is given to the relationships that evolve as events force new responsibilities and dependencies on them. Father and daughter. Husband and wife. Sibling. Friend. It’s surprising how quickly and strongly the audience empathizes with them.

This takes traditional “fast zombie” zombie tropes and, in a word, perfects them. It’s impossible to heap enough praise upon it. It succeeds in all the ways “World War Z” [Our Review] failed and sets a new high watermark for outbreak films.

IMDB, The Girl with all the Gifts“The Girl with All the Gifts” on IMDB

Drama/Horror – 2016 – 111 Minutes

This film was a selection for BEBE 2017.

It’s often difficult to defend our selected genre on the merits of its craft. The majority of films are dime-store efforts by well-meaning, but technically inept, fans or money-grubbers looking to cash in with as little effort as possible. The few that rise above tend to be hamstrung in one or more ways. They may lack any combination of money, talent or time. This is one of the few examples that have something interesting to say, are given the budget to say it, and can attract the talent to say it well.

The film is based on M.R. Carey’s novel of the same name. Comic fans may know Carey as a writer for DC Vertigo favorites “Hellblazer”, “Lucifer” and “The Unwritten” as well as significant runs of “X-men” and “Fantastic Four” for Marvel. Carey wrote the screenplay for the film in tandem with the novel. Although there are substantial differences between the two, the film remains protectively true to the spirit and message of its source material.

20 years ago, humanity was infected with a brain-altering fungus. It caused the infected to revert to a bestial, violent state and mercilessly attack any source of meat, including uninfected humans. These “hungries” soon forced the shredded remains of society into fortified military bases and quarantine zones.

The story is told almost exclusively from the point of view of Melanie, an intelligent, obedient, trusting child who hides a dark secret. There are only minor detours to other characters, usually to set specific context for the audience. It all hinges on the performance of 13-year old Sennia Nanua as Melanie and she rises to the challenge beautifully.

The rest of the small cast, including Glenn Close in a wonderful, subdued role as scientist researching the plague, is strong and confident. This is, more than anything, a character study

Many scenes demonstrate brilliant, deft transitions from quiet tension to fevered, raucous action. These punctuate the story beats precisely, yet never feel forced or artificial. The staging and cinematography are beautiful and deeply sell the post-apocalyptic setting.

The team leveraged high-quality micro-drones for overhead shots and kept the effects to an effective minimum. That the entire film was made for roughly five million dollars (compared to, say, the nearly 200 million budget of the anemic “World War Z”) is nothing short of amazing.

This is the rare offering that will appeal to film fans in general and not “just genre fans”.  A tight, original story told beautifully by a talented crew and cast. Not one to miss.

IMDB, Zombeavers“Zombeavers” on IMDB

Comedy/Horror – 2014 – 77 Minutes

This film was a selection for BEBE 2017.

Did you know that the second syllable of “zombie”  is like the letter “B”? So, you could, like, put “zom” in front of things that start with “B” and create whole new zom things! Zombadgers! Zombeagles! Zombeetles! (Or, if you’re musically inclined, Zombeatles.)

Pick something, staple it onto “zom” then grab a wikipedia article for some interesting facts and you’ve got yourself a premise! Toss in a remote cabin, a trio of bikini-clad college students and their dumbass boyfriends and you’ve got yourself a script! Cap it off with some barely passable puppets, gallons of dyed corn-syrup and a helping of gratuitous nudity and you, you my friend, have got yourself a movie.

Risking cliché, two incompetent delivery men lose a barrel of toxic waste which contaminates the local beaver dam. Three sorority sisters are visiting a cabin on the same lake to commiserate about the infidelity of one of their boyfriends. They do this in bikinis, with the designated “bad girl” going topless. In the evening, the boyfriends show up and things go soap opera.

The next day, the horror side of the story begins in earnest. The now undead beavers attack the group and the few other incidental characters introduced earlier. The effects are… terrible. The beavers – sorry, zombeavers – are sloppy, floppy puppets slathered in goo and thrown at the squirming actors. They’re often in bright sunlight which does nothing to hide the many flaws.

Later, when night falls, both the horror and the effects improve markedly. The human makeup effects, while goofy, are significantly better than the creature work. The script, free of exposition and relationship development, is leaner and, with most of the chaff killed off, the better actors are able to step up their game.

Kidding aside, this is as good as you’d expect from the title; maybe even a bit better than it deserves to be. An uneven script and effects are offset by a solid third act and mostly likable actors. Zombie aficionados may turn their noses, but as teenage zombie romps go, this is definitely one of the better ones.


IMDB, April Apocalypse“April Apocalypse” on IMDB

Horror/Romance – 2013 – 84 Minutes

This film was a selection for BEBE 2016.

Artie (Reese Thompson [IMDB]) is in love with his best friend April (Rebekah Brandes [IMDB]) and has been since they were kids. For the first third of the movie, this is the only story you’ll get and it’s straight out of a Disney tween show. Artie’s in love and April is oblivious. She dates jerks, he rejects perfectly reasonable alternatives and they both dance around the obvious. He gets his ass kicked by her latest mistake, they finally have a real conversation and she moves away.

The story jumps forward several years. Artie’s still in love with April, but hasn’t spoken to her in forever. He’s living in his parents basement, pouring his soul into a home radio station that nobody listens to and is unable to break out of his depressive rut. When he finally decides to take his chance and leave home to find April – wouldn’t you know it – society collapses into a zombie apocalypse. Artie faces this new reality, sets his jaw… and whines. A lot.

Positively, quality overall is high. The technical work is uninspired, but solid. In line with what you’d expect from a Disney tween show. The same can be said for the acting. Many of the actors are television veterans, but unfortunately most of the them are given small roles with little screen time to work. Those given the most screen time are the least able to take advantage of it, but are still adequate.

Negatively, most everything else. The biggest issue is a complete inability to maintain tone. It seems to have been marketed as another entry in the growing roster of zom-coms, but simply isn’t funny. It poses more as a straight romance, but is unable to muster the focus that requires. Instead, it lathers on ham-fisted romantic pathos through heavy-handed narration (oh lordy, so much narration!) and flashbacks (oh lordy, so many flashbacks!). In turn, this contrasts terribly with the zombie apocalypse which comes off as nothing more than a nuisance.

Scenes fail to flow naturally from one to another. The story feels like a piecemeal a collection of vignettes rather than a single movie. It also lacks a sense of scale. It clearly tells us that April moved far from Artie – too distant to make their friendship work – yet throughout his journey he never seems to leave his home town. In fact much of the trip is inexplicably made via a golf cart. We’re left with the sense that April, our holy grail, was never more than an afternoon bike ride away.

Some massaging of the script, a little rearranging of the scenes and a whole lot less narration might have pulled this one out of the doldrums. As it is, it’s a technically competent film that couldn’t decide what it really wanted to be, so it ended up nothing. That said, if you’re really into Disney tween shows, then hey, this could be right up your alley.

IMDB, Wyrmwood“Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead” on IMDB

Horror – 2014 – 98 Minutes

This film was a selection for BEBE 2016.

Zombie movies can be traditional. Slow shamblers mindlessly hunting terrified survivors clutching improvised weapons and cowering in boarded up homes. Others try to take things up a notch. Fast zombies in hordes of hundreds or thousands flooding through cities and being repelled by military units. Some pull at the heartstrings with infected children or spouses descending inevitably into savage hunger.

Then there’s this one. This one takes a long pull from a warm beer and says, “what the hell?”

The stage is set normally enough: a passing meteor shower has had devastating effects on humanity. It’s turned (nearly) everybody into mindless, ravenous monsters with bad skin, scary eyes and a need to feed. Additionally, because reasons, it has also fouled all flammable liquids. Gasoline, diesel, kerosene and everything else are all useless. None of this is explained: this isn’t that kind of movie.

That would be enough for most, but there’s a whole bag of additional crazy splattered against the wall. Surprisingly, most of it sticks. Sadistic military forces driving around (without gas)? Sure! A mad scientist with a flare for disco? Sure! A random ability to telepathically control zombies? Sure! Most of this isn’t explained, either. Again, not that kind of movie.

The story follows two paths. Our hero, Barry (Jay Gallagher [IMDB]) represents the men with gearing up montages, Motorsports and shooting things with nail guns. There’s beer and swearing and bonding. His segments are more traditional, head-on affairs. His sister, our heroine, Brooke (Bianca Bradey [IMDB]) begins as a cliched damsel, but quickly evolves into a very different kind of badass. Her moments are more subtle, with more of a focus on subterfuge and body horror. The balance between the two, intentional or not, works very well.

In many ways this is a throwback to the good old days of zombie flicks. No social commentary, little pathos and a whole lot of loud, brash badassery. It takes big chances and, probably more through luck than design, succeeds more than it fails. Most importantly, it’s huge fun.