Movies

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, 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.

IMDB, Rammbock“Rammbock” on IMDB

Horror/Thriller – 2010 – 63 Minutes

This film was a selection for BEBE 2016.

This was something of a compromise. We know that some great horror comes from abroad,  yet we still have trouble getting the children to suffer through subtitles. How could they possibly pull themselves away from their phones long enough to read a movie? It was very highly recommended and also very short – just over an hour – so, subtitles be damned, we gave it a try.

Michael has made the bad decision to head into Berlin to return a key to Gabi, the girlfriend that dumped him. He’s convinced that he can win her back, but when he gets there, she’s not home. He lets himself in to find a kid, Harper, working on her plumbing. Before he can decide how to proceed, all hell breaks loose: an infection is sweeping the city. People turn feral and attack each other. Michael and Harper are able to barricade themselves in the apartment as the rest of the building is overrun.

The story revolves around the few survivors of the building.  They communicate quietly across the common courtyard (noise attracts the infected) and try to work out a plan. How do you get to another apartment? How can you trade resources? Who can you trust? Michael, of course, remains focused on finding Gabi; often to the frustration of his allies. Motivations are clear but, more importantly, the characters act realistically. They earn our sympathy.

The filmmakers use the limited budget very well. The action sequences are well done and, thankfully, not over-done. They’ll remind genre fans of those from “28 Days Later”. The movie could, in fact, easily be considered part of that franchise. The story and character development suffers slightly from the short length, but leaving the audience wanting more is always preferable to boring them.

Even the kids enjoyed this, sub-titles and all. It’s a solid, if not wholly original, story with an interesting slant. Fans of more modern “fast zombie” stories should feel right at home.

IMDB, Bigfoot vs Zombies“Bigfoot vs. Zombies” on IMDB

Horror/Comedy – 2016 – 75 Minutes

This film was a selection for BEBE 2016.

We always try to start our Easter marathon with something less, um… let’s say “intellectual”. We’ve just woken up and are still bleary-eyed, the kids are grumpy and we’re cobbling together a breakfast leftovers, dyed-eggs, pop-tarts and chocolate. Something that we don’t have to pay the strictest attention too is generally best.

This definitely fits that bill.

Ed and Andy are delivering cadavers to a “body farm”, where fresh corpses are left in natural, but controlled, conditions to benefit forensic science. The facility itself has a skeleton crew: there’s a single (mad) scientist, a cute peer/assistant/receptionist/something, the dumbass handyman and the slimy security guard. Oh yeah, there’s Bigfoot too. Bigfoot’s in this. He’s short, weird and looks like he’s covered in partially skinned dogs, but he’s Big “B” Bigfoot, dammit!

The (mad) scientist has been soaking the bodies with something designed to make them… something, and now they’re zombies. Really crappy ones. There’s just no effort made. The zombies are people with loose-fitting masks and what appear to be wigs stolen from old women. At one point the script calls for our heroes to bribe the slimy security guard with pornography. They stacked a bunch of copy paper together and – quite literally – printed out the words “Jugs and Thugz” in black and white. Mormon children could make a more convincing prop.

There’s a fine line between “fun no budget” and “sad no budget” and this shambles around it, but lands definitively on the “sad” side of the line. It’s slow and sloppy and Bigfoot is a complete non-starter. There’s no joy here at all.

 

IMDB, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” on IMDB

Horror/Comedy – 2015 – 93 Minutes

We must admit, despite all sense, we were actually excited for this movie when it was announced. The premise was promising: how would a troop of scouts – and be clear: not trademarked and copyright protected “Boy Scouts“, just “scouts” – handle the zombie apocalypse? How would these legendarily prepared youths fare against the truly unexpected?

We never find out. The “troop” in this film is made up exactly three kids, all in their late teens. The characters are poster-board thin and they fall into their slots easily and without complaint. We have the everyman, Ben (Tye Sheridan), who pines for a girl, makes the best peace among his friends and always does the right thing. We have the fool, Carter (Logan Miller), who’s more interested in sex than woodcraft and screams every damn line. Both of them are still in scouts to spare the feelings of Augie (Joey Morgan), the overweight doofus, who hides untapped strength under his lovable naivete.

They have planned their last camping trip together to coincide both with the massive, but secret, senior rave that Carter and Ben are desperate to attend and the zombie plague that an inept janitor releases in a horrifically unfunny, drawn out sequence. When they discover the zombie problem, they join forces with Denise (Sarah Dumont), a cocktail waitress at the strip club that Carter insists they seek shelter in. Together, the group becomes determined to discover the location of the rave and warn their classmates.

The movie does as little as possible with its main premise. Ben whittles a spear at one point and Augie, in a cliche-ridden climax, redeems himself by starting a fire. The rest is a trite teen romp lightly drizzled in blood. It was promising to see a rated “R” zombie movie, for once, but it resulted in was gratuitous zombie nudity and an extended, graphic dick joke that stopped being funny long before it ended.

Furthermore, the movie commits the sin of pretending that having a single “strong” female character means its not sexist as hell. It is. Denise is a strong woman, and Dumont’s performance is as good as the material will allow. She also spends the entire film in a tank top and short-shorts and is forced to do and say ridiculous things in service of a half-assed frat mentality. The few other female characters are there to be nude or, at best, rescued.

The movie wasted, then ignored, its premise and its rating. There were a few – very few – laughs, but the few that worked initially were driven so heavily into the ground that they were ruined long before any kind of mood could be set. Zombie comedies are far from rare; you can and should avoid this one easily.

IMDB, Cooties“Cooties” on IMDB

Horror/Comedy – 2014 – 88 Minutes

Zombie movies have often used infected children or infants to increase tension and create memorable moments (we’ve featured several previously as Zombies of the Week). Movies featuring homicidal children are pretty common as well (we’ve reviewed more than a few of those on our sister site, DepressedPress.com). It’s manipulative to trot out the small versions of ourselves that our entire evolutionary history has convinced us not to kill (no matter how annoying they get) and create an “us or them” situation. It’s manipulative, but effective.

Here we start with something of an adversarial relationship to begin with: teachers and students. Our hero is, specifically, substitute elementary school teacher Clint (Elijah Wood, playing exactly the same character he perfected in Wilfred) who’s recently been forced to move back to his small home town after failing as a writer in New York City. He discovers that his high-school crush (Alison Pill, who is almost completely wasted) also works as a teacher and is dating the completely cliched, overbearing gym teacher (Rainn Wilson, playing Dwight Schrute from The Office). Jack McBrayer also plays, as always, himself.

After our intros, a troublesome morning and a lunch laden with foreshadowing, our teachers are made witness to a recess-of-bloody-death thanks to tainted chicken nuggets that turn all the children into mindless, ravenous cannibals. These scenes are played with enough humor to temper the reality, yet are still more than dark enough to amuse those with more twisted senses of humor. You may feel a little guilty about giggling when a school girl is knocked on her ass by a baseball cannon, but you’ll still giggle anyway.

Unfortunately, despite the promising premise, the actual execution is more mediocre than inspired. The characters are simple and single-dimensional and the challenges they face predictable. There is often tension between the humor and the horror. Instead of the former emerging organically from the latter, transitions seemed forced and lacking rhythm leaving the audience off-balance. The ending, especially, feels forced and loses much of the silliness and fun of the early movie. It’s first drawn-out, then truncated; as if the production just ran out of money (or interest).

It is a fun ride, despite the problems. There are definite high-points that had us laughing out loud, but the overall themes ultimately fail to gel. It has the makings of a great teen slumber party movie. It starts off very strong, but starts to slide at just about the time that the kids will start to goof off and ignore it. After that, there are enough interesting bits for them to look up from their phones for, but nothing so important that it will matter when they inevitably miss it.