Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Maggie 2010: Zombie Vs Zombie

#115. Dead Outside

I sat down a couple weeks ago with two of the latest zombie/zombie-esque flicks that seemed to have similar plot-lines, because I'm all for movie death matches and hey! zombies! Enough said.

To this end, both The Dead Outside and Mutants follow a couple of survivors in an embedded post-apocalyptic scenario where huge swatches of the population are, at the very least, dead inside. In both films, other survivors enter the picture; and also in both films, the introduction of other people makes a real mess of things. (Preliminary conclusion: Be wary of strangers when surviving in a post-apocalyptic world.) Despite these similarities, however, the two films are very different -- both in breadth of execution, and in overall quality.

The first of these "zombie" flicks, The Dead Outside is very much an independent film, but I don't want to give it a pass on these grounds for some of its blatant weaknesses, including a script that features some rough transitions (the worst being a really painful line leading into a chunk of exposition) and a partiality for shots so darkly lit that it's often difficult to make out what's going on. (Read: One can use natural darkness effectively, by heightening our other sensory inputs [the chase scene in Dirty Harry comes especially to mind], but sadly, this wasn't done here.)

Strengths in this film by Kerry Anne Mullaney absolutely include the acting of lead survivor, April (Sandra Louise Douglas), who harbours a secret absolutely justifying her prickly reaction to outsiders when they emerge. Even Daniel (Alton Milne), the wayward traveller who finds the homestead she's been maintaining in the wake of a deadly infection, plays his wide-eyed role adequately. Furthermore, the secret the lead character harbours creates interesting opportunities to expand on zombie/rage virus canon -- but sadly, these aren't developed anywhere near as well as they could be. A third walks into the the two survivors' midst, stirs shit up for a while, and in the aftermath of all that hoopla more than a pleasing ambiguity remains regarding next steps. Indeed, the film ends on a meandering and lack-lustre note belying the promise of its premise (say that three times fast!), and seems very much a waste of some splendidly selected scenery and an exceptionally broody lead.

#116. Mutants

Mutants, on the other hand, harbours a very similar secret in the form of its lead character, Sonia (Hélène de Fougerolles), but this French film by David Morlet is executed with a mind to the well-tread canonical ground into which it ventures. Truly, some of the shots in this haunting film, which adopts underground, vehicular, and hospice locations to the credit of some exemplary attack sequences, call to mind the best and most disconcerting scenarios in the acclaimed Left 4 Dead series, and the variation of weapon choices also speaks to a writer and director well versed in zombie survival lore.

But most impressively of all, the human beings at the beginning of this film act like human beings -- which means sometimes people get shot up for No Good Reason, and yes! sometimes people make horrible, life-altering mistakes. Moreover, when the opening scenario occurs, setting into motion all of the events to follow, it isn't treated with over-the-top cinematic gravitas, but established above all for its senselessness. This is one director who truly understands that the greatest threat of all is always fellow human beings, and their propensity both for fear and for error.

Inevitably, not all points or characters in this film sustain that ridiculously high standard -- one female character verges on comical in her blatant adherence to sycophantic stereotype; one misunderstood villain is turned into an over-the-top hero -- but as poor lead male Marco (Francis Renaud) struggles to retain some semblance of dignity and humanity while turning into a monster, and Sonia struggles to protect both him and the greater social order in the aftermath of their stake-out for rescue, some truly high calibre shots, conversations, and ideas emerge. Mutants is a quality addition to a genre that has already seen a lot, and well worth a viewing by any committed zombie fan.

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