Train to Busan (AKA 부산행, Busanhaeng): follows a ragtag bunch of commuters as a zombie outbreak sweeps through South Korea – and their Train. Mostly killer and very little filler, this is about as fun and enjoyable as a zombie apocalypse film can get. All of the populist and barnstorming zombie staples are there – namely hoards of ultra-twitchy and energetic zombies gorily ripping their way through everything and everyone in their path. Not unlike Snowpiercer, the train is a great way of offering up a diverse cross-section of society, which leads to some light social commentary and comedy moments. It’s a tight and straightforward film that has a punchy setup, then revels in the crimson spectacle of a drawn-out zombie attack. The action is all well-handled and there’s some nice dramatic moments thrown in for some respite and balance. The only minor niggle is that it loses it’s way a little in the final act and gets a bit too Hollywood / 28 Weeks Later. Overall, this has all of the prime cuts that you want from Zombie film, and none of the offal (except for buckets of brains and guts!)
What We Do in the Shadows: a documentary crew follow the exploits of four vampires – Viago (aged 379), Vladislav, (862), Deacon (183) and Petyr, aged (8,000) – sharing a house in Wellington, NZ. All the standard vampire tropes are here and used to comic effect: being invited in, reflections, hypnosis etc. The character’s have nearly a thousand years of history to play with and the film does well to thrown in a bunch of historic references and jokes – although the strongest riff is minor character Stu teaching the vampires how to use modern technology (Laptops, Skype, Ebay etc). The central trio are fantastic characters: perfectly acted, and all funny in their own styles – you’d happily sit and watch them argue for hours as they truly feel like bickering mates. It’s a great comedy script, with plenty of big and throwaway gags, but the overall feel of the film is more like a bunch of individually strong sketches loosely tied together by a few tangents – it feels more like a sitcom, than a documentary or movie. Most situations substitute the romanticism of being a vampire with the silly and mundane stuff, giving the film an upbeat, giggly, and playful tone which – along with the old-timer’s habits, dress sense, accents etc – make it all great fun to watch. It’s technically sound – CGI & wires are well hidden and there’s even an Inception-style corridor fight that works. I tip my beaver fur top-hat to Clement and Waititi for taking on two completely tired genres and making something this fresh and funny with it. A charming and entertaining look at the boring daily vampiric monotony.
As part of JAPANORAMA I have been inviting my movie-reviewing peers to join in. This post is from Brikhaus over at the fantastic Awesomely Shitty. I love the site because it’s not afraid to stick the boot in and dissect anything and everything that the masses are generally scrambling over each other to fawn over – from Django to the Academy. Today Awesomely Shitty takes on Versus, a low-budget cult zombie flick. You can see the full review here, and follow on twitter @awesomelyshitty.
Versus (-ヴァーサス- Vāsasu): Versus is a bizarre, nonsensical movie. It’s a super low-budget cult film featuring cops, gangsters, shootouts, samurai, zombies, martial arts, karate zombies, sword fighting, and demons. It’s like the director grabbed a list of “cool shit” from the internet, and mixed it all together, hoping it would work. And depending on your point of view, it either totally works, or is a complete fucking mess. The movie has an odd tone somewhere between serious and wacky. I suppose if Versus had played it straight, nothing would work. The whole thing is just too goddamn crazy. The closest thing I can compare it to is Evil Dead II. The zombies are a mix of traditional lumbering zombies, and other zombies who can shoot guns and know karate. I can’t think of any other movie where you can see zombies shooting machine guns, or humans roundhouse kicking zombie heads off. At least it earned a few points for originality. At 2 hours and 10 minutes, Versus definitely overstays its welcome. Some of the fight scenes seem endless, and when they aren’t fighting, the movie sucks so hard you wish they were back to fighting again. It’s an endless cycle of shit. Versus is a hard movie to rate. I enjoyed the karate zombies and weird sense of humor. I also enjoyed the well-choreographed fight scenes. However, the movie drags at times, and it way too long for its own good. I’d say it rounds out to be an average watch. Good to watch drunk, but not otherwise.
An old review of Versus from this site can be found here.
State of Emergency: Accident at a chemical plant. Lone survivour. Mutant zombies. Barricaded in. Headshots and axes… You know the drill. What sets this apart from the tons of zombie movies out there is that it has an indie sensibility about it. It’s heavily character based, spending the entire time with Jim and his backstory – the only drawback is that it’s fairly familiar. There’s a few action scenes, but more impressively, several very well crafted moments of crazy tension and all-round creepiness. The film tips it’s hat towards Romero through countless references, and while that’s no bad thing, it does miss out the very important ‘social’ slant that elevate the Romero films from good to fantastic. The zombies are pretty cool, standing ominously still – relying on hearing – then hulking out and fighting! One even talks, which is a bit weird. It also looks very slick, being filmed on Red Ones. State of Emergency feels quite simplistic held up against its contemporaries, like a throwback zombie film – and while it may not be the most original or action-packed film in the genre, it’s a solid watch, and shows some great potential from Director Turner Clay / The Clay Brothers.
The Cabin in the Woods: 5 friends go to an isolated cabin for a party, and although a bunch of zombified rednecks lurk in the woods, this is far from your average slasher/horror flick. My only real complaint is that the film puts all of the cards on the table a little too early – although it’s understandable, because such an ending would be too much to nonchalantly tag on during a finale. There’s plenty decent acting, even better SFX, good suspense / tension / scares, brilliant streak of tongue-in-cheek genre humour (The whiteboard with entries like “Angry Molestation Tree”, and ‘trowel’ quip are golden). The film works its way towards the revelatory ending, and the final reel is one of the best pieces of horror in decades – it’s an insane roller coaster paying both tribute and homage to the last 100 years of horror cinema. This is clearly made by horror fans, for horror fans. Don’t watch the trailer, or even read any more reviews, just get your arse to the cinema and check this beast out for yourself. Cabin in the Woods is creepy, entertaining, smart, fresh, funny, original and goes far beyond (and behind) the standard horror movie formula. Easily one of the best modern horrors in a long, long time.
Bonus: here’s a screenshot of the whiteboard – Click to Enlarge
Evidence: while shooting a documentary four young campers find themselves in the middle of an increasingly creepy situation. The opening half is front-loaded with the standard box o’ tricks to pull you through the slow, familiar, setup – dead animals, tits, lesbian kissing, howling, mysterious sightings, jumps… no trick is left unused and it’s all a bit ‘meh’. Hand-held found footage documentary style is an instant disability these days for several reasons: 1) it’s a hard sell to viewers. 2) Plenty shaky, out-of-focus or focusing footage. 3) Characters constantly drawing attention to camera. 4) What they go through, nobody would drag a camera around. 5) First person in the woods, just screams Blair Witch… Despite all of this, the second half is where it picks up, the action kicks in, the critters come out to play. No monsters is left unrepresented: critters, ghosts, bigfoot, rabid zombies, lurching aliens (very Attack the Block-y) all chasing after the campers. This section is solid horror, and reminded me most of the first few Resident Evil games – the docu cam also works best here as it plays out like a rapid pace first-person shooter. Technically, the film’s decent given the budget; the picture is sharp when it has to be and the scares / jumps work well. Having a boring setup and killer payoff split the film down the middle, but it is worth sticking to the end of this.
Versus: a criminal and mystic are hunted down by yakuza, who are being chased by zombies! How do you make a film with more action than the matrix? Easy, just add gallons of blood, swords, knifes, massive guns, a ton of zombies and have as many fights as you can get away with. It’s (surprisingly) directed by the same guy that did Midnight Meat Train, but don’t hold that against him as this a good effort. He did well with a low-budget: the effects very gory and good, the sound’s not bad despite being re-dubbed in a studio and the camerawork’s admirable, although 360 shots are overused. The story’s pretty thin, and the ‘big twist’ is so bad it’s good. Some of the dialogue and action is very corny, making it feel like a live-action manga adaptation. Quite looking forward to the re-make/sequel that’s being rumored at the moment. Ridiculously OTT live-action-packed ultra-stylish no-brainer hack-fest of a cult zombie flick.
Zombieland: the latest ‘Zom-Com’ pushing the genre further into the mainstream, follows a small band of survivors two months after a zombie outbreak. There’s thirty-odd ‘rules to survival’ although you only hear about six, which is a bit pants. The four humans carry the film well, and the chemistry between them is believable; Eisenberg plays a Michael Cera typecast and Woody Harrelson nails one of the coolest characters in recent cinema history. It does go some longish spells without zombies and there aren’t that many in general, but the script and humour keep things rolling despite the story never really going forward. There’s some great and graphic gore throughout and the slow-mo blood-drenched credits are brilliant. The 15 minute cameo spent massaging BM’s ego was nothing more than filler. It’s really enjoyable and will have finished before you know it. Top drawer zombie/road movie.
Diary of the Dead: maybe the first mainstream FPS horror? (It’s pre Cloverfield) Mostly filmed on 2 hand-held cameras, which surprisingly lures you right in to the action and gets the blood pumping. The atmosphere created is great, but does rely on some cheap jumps and music. It’s all a bit ‘horror 2.0’, frequently citing the ‘web, hits, bloggers, hackers, kids and how they can beat the mainstream in an emergency, which was a bit cringey. Also states people behind the camera (aimed at the media) have no limits & can’t stop filming, no matter how bad the scene in front of them gets. It’s self-referencing, with old-school broadcasts tying it in with the original film, while making a nod to resident evil (the game) as well as highlighting zombie / b-movie clichés. Above this it features the coolest deaf Aumish guy in the history of cinema! All-in it’s actually quite clever, in trying something new and modernising the franchise. It was generally poorly received so most people must be expecting a generic rehash. Much better than Land.
Zombie Town: staple zombie-flick from 2007 where zombies and bodysnatchers-esque slugs set their sights on an isolated redneck American town – a gorey mess ensues and the B-movie genre lives on! Blood, check. Gore, check. Brains, Check. Pseudo-scientist, Check. Random boobs, check. Zombie lovers will have seen this kind of film a dozen times now and it’s not the best example. Not really worth watching, so spare yourself the trauma unless you’re hell-bent on seeing every zombie film ever made… or really need some party fodder.
Tokyo Zombie: keeping Japan’s offbeat fascination with the undead ‘alive’, this black comedy is tagged as ‘Japan’s Shaun of the Dead’. Basically, it’s a movie of two halves; the first of which is pretty funny, dark, entertaining and has some top comedy violence. The second half is boring and full of poor drama, with the last 15 minutes perking up again. In true Japanese style weird, irrelevant and perverse subjects crop up throughout, and it’s got a similar look and feel to the ‘Happiness of the Katakuris’. There’s a few glimmers of good acting through the ridiculous scenes, a couple of great long takes, and a few awesome J-punk riffs in the soundtrack. Because it peeks too early I’d check this out if you were in to your Japanese films already, but wouldn’t use this as an introduction to Asian cinema.