When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.
I guess to clarify things straight away, this is the 2004 remake I’m writing about here. With all due respect to the original, I haven’t seen it so I’m not comparing the remake against it and I’m just judging it on its own. But from what I’ve seen around the internet, this seems to be one of the more widely respected and accepted horror remakes. Watching it makes it easy to understand why and it is definitely one of the more impressive indie horror films out there. And I can definitely see where Left 4 Dead got pretty much 95% of their inspiration from.
Ana is a young nurse in an unnamed city. She wakes up one morning to find her entire neighbourhood overrun with zombies (in true Romero tradition none of the characters say the dreaded z-word however) and the whole place in a state of panic. She manages to escape with her life and runs into a group of other survivors. With nowhere else to go, they all take refuge in a nearby shopping mall. Of course they have to deal with the rest of the survivors in the mall, as well as facing the threats outside. As the zombies outside start to swell in numbers, our characters deal with the situation in their own unique ways but of course it’s only a matter of time before either the zombies get them or their own cabin fever does.
For some reason the zombie apocalypse genre seems pretty outlandish in films like Night of the Living Dead (both original and remake) and Return of the Dead. It’s pretty similar to the slasher genre in that there’s always that feeling that what’s happening isn’t possible in real life. But like Wolf Creek for the slasher genre, this to me anyway places a group of realistic people into a zombie apocalypse and makes it work as an actual realistic event. We do get introduced to quite a wide range of characters and most of them do get some form of development and motivation besides some of them just being there to be offed in the first few minutes. The film puts a different spin on the traditional zombie movie formula of offing a load of nobodies early on, so people can die without affecting the plot. Here you see characters with strong ties and stories getting killed easily, driving home an “anyone can die” message that makes it hard to figure out who will survive, if anyone will at all. The film does focus on the characters and their relationships with each other, just as much as the zombies outside making this a lot more than just a popcorn zombie flick.
I loved the cast for this film. Sarah Polley who plays Ana is terrific as our “final girl” though she’s not wholesome or innocent. She’s a proper action girl and it’s done well without being too in your face. Sarah gives a very realistic performance and is able to convey the feeling of a real person stuck in this situation. Ving Rhames returns once again in live action this time as our resident badass and he doesn’t disappoint at all. I enjoyed Kevin Zegers as security guard Terry and his girlfriend Nicole, played by the sweet looking Lindy Booth. Michael Kelly as the wiseass badass security guard CJ is brilliant as well with his “fucking nursery school” and other lines chock full of F-bombs. This does have a pretty large cast and some characters do get lost in the shuffle like Kim Poirier as Monica, who doesn’t even get her name said in the film. I think it maybe could have done with a couple of extra minutes to give them more screen time but we still get to know their characters well enough. We have cameos from Tom Savini, who plays the man explaining how to kill them on the TV, as well as Ken Foree as a priest who delivers the quote at the start of the entry. Those two starred in the original just in case you didn’t know.
Apparently the majority of the film was shot in a closed-down mall in Ontario with the filmmakers renovating it themselves and dressing it up considerably, as well as creating their own names of shops when the likes of Starbucks refused to have their names shown. The mall itself is a great set-piece and it adds to the realism of the film in that it gives the characters a full stock of supplies and ways to amuse themselves so that we do get that sense of real people in a zombie apocalypse. The most impressive set would probably be the baby store full of babies’ clothes and toys which ends up being the setting for a rather dark part of the film later on. Call it grim irony if you like.
I enjoyed all of the action scenes, especially considering how original they are. The final act of the film has the survivors fix up a pair of buses with razor wire, mesh and other such items in order to escape through the zombies. The characters are armed with guns, gas tanks and even chainsaws which they use to chop zombies in half if they dare to climb up the side of the bus. I’m still waiting for the Left 4 Dead campaign that gives us this homage. The film does deliver a good dose of dramatic scenes, probably the most heart-wrenching one even comes from a pair of characters we barely know. A father is infected and has to say goodbye to his daughter while he is being quarantined. The slow montage that shows how the other characters are reacting to this is strangely beautiful in a weird way. The shot of Terry watching Nicole crying on the security monitor always stuck out to me. This is then followed by a complete mood whiplash as we get a montage of the characters amusing themselves in the mall with an upbeat song playing over the whole thing, including the girl whose father just got killed. And yet, it works.
So naturally a zombie apocalypse film made it to my list and so did a horror remake (though I did enjoy the remakes of House of Wax and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). George Romero has definitely made a big impact on the horror genre by basically creating the zombie apocalypse plotline so even though his films aren’t on my list, ones that have felt their influence are. This stands out as more than just a horror-action film and is definitely worth a repeat viewing. Take care, Bobby-verse and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter which we will hopefully still have in the event of a zombie apocalypse.