Friday, 16 August 2013

Bong of the Dead - review

2011 (Canada)

Contains mild spoilers.

A surreal zombie grind-house buddy road trip comedy, book ended with lavish extravagant comic-book sequences and all enveloped in a post production drug haze. One thing writer, director, producer, score composer and artistic lead Thomas Newman can't be accused of is playing it safe. An original idea he claims at the end of the credits was actively thwarted at every opportunity Bong of the Dead is the very epitome that belief and perseverance can win out however crazy and possibly misguided the dream.

At its heart Bong of the Dead is a buddy film. Edwin (Mark Wynn) and Tommy (Jy Harris) have survived the end of world by maintaining a consistently high state of shit-faced-ness. The embodiment of stoner buddies they witnessed the demise of civilisation from the comfort of their own self induced tranquilised euphoria, their only real concern where their next hit would come from.

Edwin, a life long grower searching for the ultimate hit stumbles upon green-goo fertiliser made from dehydrated zombie brain but the army has done such a good job of ridding the safe zones from the undead, the brainless duo are forced to take a dangerous road trip to source more. The films success, much like Shaun of the Dead which Newman cites as an influence, hinged on whether Edwin and Tommy / Mark and Jy could form an on screen partnership and while it's a bit of a slow burn, I definitely warmed to their inherently dislikeable narcissistic personalities and quite endearing bro-mance. They're dope heads so the dialogue and jokes are never going to be sharp or witty, but they're a likeable duo and their slapstick interaction plays well. They're eventually joined by Leah (Simone Bailly) who adds a timely third pivot at a time there was a danger the joke would run thin and the three play off each other well through to a explosive and ridiculously over the top finale. Like the guy's addled and easily distracted train of thought, and as with all good road trips, the guys do off piste and the storyline all goes a bit daft, but it's fun and bad in the sense it knows it is and knows how to make it still work. 

I've read Newman shot the film on a single camera over fifteen days but then spent the best part of three years alone on a Mac in post production, adding his own score and FX claiming the film only cost $5000. If this is indeed the case, the results are nothing less than spectacular and puts larger budget efforts to shame (looking at you Troma / The Asylum). Add to this some downright guttural, gory, grubby and extremely authentic  zombies made-up by effects wizard Mike Fields, and a quantity of blood the likes of which I've not seen since Dead Alive (Braindead), for a low budget film it's quite the cinematic tour-de-force. With stylish directing, the ambitious comic-book production and the confidence to give the film a post production grind-house sheen, Bong of the Dead offers a genuinely original and unconventional aesthetic befitting the narrative.

The zombie origin is deliberately ambiguous and obtuse. Meteors struck, there was something alien inside and green gas that infected those were first on the scene causing boils, deformities and a particularly nasty cannibalistic hunger. They're slow, cumbersome and destroying the brain is the only way to destroy them. Newman hasn't been afraid to play around with our friends and the film is chock full of absurd zombie deaths and parody. It's sick and quite often in extremely bad taste jarring against a central narrative that despite the outlandish main premise tries at least to maintain a degree of cohesiveness, but it all adds to the films unique charm. There's also the play some zombies retain, or regain their self awareness, while keeping their hunger for flesh and deire to see the demise of the living. It's not explained but it doesn't need to be.

This film holds the esteemed title of holding the lowest IMDb score of any I've reviewed; yes a whole one point below Osombie and I find it hard to understand why. I like my zombie films to have good zombies, check, an interesting and original take on the end of the world, check, convincing acting, check and most of all a degree of authenticity and respect that makes me feel those involved cared about what they were doing, and this has that in abundance. Look, I'm not saying it's the best zombie film either. It does have dub problems (the actors had to rerecord all their lines post-production), and pacing is too slow at the start and too rushed at the end, but it's individual style and identity, memorable and convincing acting, and stylish direction certainly warrants you give it a go. A daft, gratuitous, doobie smoking, zombie bro-mance, that as long as you don't take too seriously, man, is quite the fun ride, 6/10.



  1. I haven't seen Osombie yet, but I take it from your point up there that it ain't gonna be worth a whole lot (except a few jokes maybe)...

    Great review, I agree that this is a 'leave your brain at the door' type of thing that has at least SOME merit...

    1. Take the idea of a Bin Laden Zombie film if they'd realised what they were actually doing and played up to it, still bad eh? Now imagine if they'd actually tried to do it seriously... Think Zombie Apocalypse but much much worse and less jokes.