Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Siege of the Dead (Rammbock) - review

2010 (Germany)

Contains mild spoilers.

Siege of the Dead or Rammbock as it was released in Germany and the US as, is pretty much as gritty, unpretentious and unremitting as you'll get.

Michael (Michael Fuith) has returned to Berlin to hand his keys back in person to his long term love who recently told him she's moving on. Finding her out, and barricading himself in her flat with a violent ravenous plumber banging at the door he looks out the window at a city falling apart under the weight of a virulent infection turning everyone into rampaging murderers. Trapped with no food, no escape, no water, no salvation from the TV or radio and a consuming concern for Gabi's (Anka Graczyk) safety, the film begins with Michael in quite the dire straits.

First time director Marvin Kren's aim for Siege of the Dead was for a modern zombie survival tale taking inspiration from 28 Days Later and Colin. He wanted a tight claustrophobic horror experience focused on tension, atmosphere and the survivors reaction to the situation over out and out jumps, gore or unrealistic heroism. Michael is the unlikely hero; he starts in denial believing order will soon be restored, he runs and hides when presented with any kind of danger and the companion he finds himself locked away with, the plumbers assistant Harper (Theo Trebs) is not much better.

In many respects it's yet another ground zero, derivative survival zombie story. A few disparate people manage to survive the initial tidal wave of attacks, they barricade themselves away from the bulk of the problem, and desperately try to come to terms with what's happened, while coming up with a plan they can all agree on as their next move. Yet, having Michael and Harper and those few remaining survivors locked in their own apartments so ordinary, with unlikeable traits and weaknesses, and setting the whole drama in a single intimate set of apartments, somehow makes it all the more believable, amplifying the tension and stress, and making the external threat feel so much more visceral and un-ordinary. Michael and Harper don't fight the horde with improvised weaponry and new found strength, their relentless move from room to room, is more forced, than by design, and the great unrelenting game of chase and hide is savagely honest and pathetically real. 

If you've seen 28 days later, which of course you have, you'll know what to expect from the infected-but-very-much-not-dead rabid running flesh munchers causing all the trouble. White eyed, foaming mouthed and savagely primed to chase down any sound or movement, they react as if they're permanently adrenalized. Through an automated radio announcement we learn the infection is spread through saliva and blood, the pathogen that's transferred only affects the brain and full breakdown is ultimately triggered by getting overly stressed and not remaining calm. It's a nice little twist having stress, anxiety and anger being the trigger to awaken the primal id and detach morality and restraint. It's also not the only twist either, with Kren having the confidence to give the zombies a weakness to flashing bright lights brought on with now having oversensitive retinas; again it's a nice touch which doesn't feel forced or implausible.

You'll notice I never mention the need to die, though I'm starting to chill as to whether the deadness I feel is a zombie requisite trait necessarily needs to be physical or could just as acceptably be the death of the super-ego, self, soul, will or whatever you want to call it. Suffice it to say, they're nasty little buggers, they swarm in groups, never seem to sleep and they give the survivors a lot of trouble in a zombie kind of way. Having them as recently changed norms, albeit with snarly faces and white contacts also allows this amateur budget affair to not worry too much about how they look with their behaviour being the focus of what's important. That's not to say it all doesn't look good; the rabid infected appear plausibly unpleasant, move with uniform rapidity  and when they do land a good munch the subdued blood and flesh ripping is quite realistic and unnerving.

Siege of the Dead is actually quite a short feature at just over an hour, but I have no complaints as it's obvious Kren sacrificed length to keep the action moving and not allowing the narrative pace to languish. I'm not one that feels a feature has to be a certain length and many a film I've reviewed have been guilty of the opposite, dragging their heels and it's refreshing to watch something with the confidence to move as it wants. It also never feels like anything is missing and the ending is brutally succinct and satisfying. Acting wise, despite it's low budget, Fuith and Trebs give authoritative yet subdued performances that match the grey lens Kren chooses to portray the apartments and Berlin in its apocalyptic fall. Kren also pitches the contrast between resignation and despair and the intense need to get active and think quickly almost to perfection. The story isn't particular new or invigorating, the characters do nothing to stand out, but Siege of the Dead is quite the satisfying tight little zombie survival story and definitely one I'd recommend, if you have a spare hour, 6/10.


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