Thursday, 25 July 2013

Zombies of Mass Destruction - review

2010 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

I love going into a film with no preconceptions and genuinely no idea what I'm letting myself in for. What's even better is when the film actually turns out to be rather good.

It's the usual slow pre-zombie show stacking up the cards to knowing they'll be knocked down later. Pan across the idyllic picture perfect Port Gamble with pristine gardens and hedges, people happily greeting each other on the street and little girls skipping or if you're one of its returning sons and daughters, the little insular narrow minded bigoted hell you grew up in.

American Frida Abbas (Janette Armand) has returned to her Iranian cafe owning father after dropping out of Princeton University and Tom Hunt (Doug Fahl) a six-figure earner from Wall Street is visiting his mum with his partner Lance Murphy (Cooper Hopkins) to finally come out. Unknown to these returnees and the town at large though a putrid corpse has just washed up on a nearby shore and is rather animated and hungry.

Zombies of Mass Destruction is in many respects just an extremely well done zombie film in the best traditions of Night of the Living Dead and The Return of the Living Dead. The feeling things are about to turn rather sour permeates nicely alongside some far better than expected dialogue and acting for the first half and hour, there's enough time to get a nice list in your head of those you can't wait to see killed and when the first attack occurs it's executed with amazing affront and brutality; so far so good. I'll say from the start, director Kevin Hamedani isn't afraid to shock and there are some great up close and personal graphic scenes full of gore and blood and many truly oh-shit scenes in the best grind-house tradition. The story, such as there is one, is really as old school as it gets; it's survive or be eaten and that's pretty much it. It is all pulled off with great panache though and there is something else going on...

Before watching I'd assumed the absurd title was just to help this low budget film stand out and didn't think for one minute it actually meant anything, but I was wrong. Hamedani has, in true Romero style, managed to weave in a stinging anti-Muslim, homophobic subtext showing off US small town ignorance, fear and prejudice at its worst. The announcement that the zombie outbreak is actually a Muslim terrorist attack is the green light, as it was when it was reported Saddam had hidden weapons of mass destruction, to many, to abandon common-sense and restraint. Across town another group lead by reverend Haggis (Bill Johns) and Mayor Burton (James Mesher) see the outbreak as the Christian Armageddon and vindication of their homophobic and anti-abortion agenda. It really is all a stinging rebuttal of the right wing political agenda where it's ok to label and attack whole minority subgroups and while Hamedani has picked these two it could have easily been any one of many more. This political agenda really does drive the narrative and dialogue and the zombies are somewhat pushed to the background for the second half but I can see how it was needed for what they were trying to accomplish. I can also see how the liberal agenda might not be for everyone and the right wing figures are portrayed as somewhat one-dimensional extreme nut-jobs without redeeming characteristics but zombie films often play with extreme tropes and they do make for good baddies you really, really want to see killed in as brutal a way as possible.

The explanation for the zombie outbreak is deliberately left open, perhaps a natural virus, a mutation or maybe the reverend was right, though I doubt it. For a very low budget zombie film the effects are good and the zombies all obey a uniform Romero slow shuffling template. The action does go over the top, and full on zombie-farce at times but it all adds to the charm and the light hearted comedy horror template that underlies the heavier political message. An old school guttural synth score perfectly accompanies the action and the whole thing comes together quite successfully. 

Surprisingly good acting and witty dialogue, a coherent narrative that stays on track and some great zombie deaths helps propel this zombie film from merely average to good and I'd heartily recommend it, unless though you're a regular Fox News viewer or subscribe to the Daily Mail then it's probably best you pass it by, 7/10.


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