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observation notes: Zombie Apocalypse

Tonight was big for Asylum fans, as the studio's biggest film of the year - Zombie Apocalypse starring Ving Rhames, Taryn Manning, Eddie Steeples, Lesley-Ann Brandt, Johnny Pacar, Gerald Webb, Gary Weeks, Anya Monzikova, Lilan Bowden, Robert Blanche and scores more - got a World Premiere on the SyFy network. Now, as the film won't be on DVD until December 27th, and so far there's only one replay on the books, November 15th at 7pm, I won't give away any spoilers here, only my own personal and heavily-biased opinions. 

Let's start with the plot, shall we? I know that these days the kids like their concept's high but I've always been a believer in simple storylines and complex character interactions; sometimes an apocalypse is just an apocalypse. And that's what we have here, a full-blown, end-of-the-world scenario, rife with brain-gobbling, rotten and smelly zombies. We come into this world six months after the plague hit; the planet's human population has been reduced by 90% and those that are left are fodder for the hungry undead. But among the chaos there is one band of survivors still fighting, cutting a bloody swath across America on their way towards a rumored sanctuary on Catalina Island. 

This concept comes courtesy of writers Craig Engler and Brooks Peck, and is the debut script for both. You'd never know it, though, for the expert pacing and suspense-building storytelling going on. The action starts right at the beginning and skulks through the film like a "straggler," a constant potential threat to our ragtag band of survivors, portrayed by an ensemble cast firing on all cylinders.

Ving Rhames as "Henry" is, as expected, an all-around badass, in that strong, silent, stoic way he practically invented. Simultaneously, though, he imbues the film with heart using that fuzzy teddy-bear charm he can turn on at will. He's just the ultimate warrior/protector, and when you put a sledgehammer in his hands, it's fucking on.

Taryn Manning as "Ramona," however, I think serves as the film's true heart. Easily the character one can most relate to, she's more muted here than usual, in a good way, in a way that causes you to see the effect of this insane situation on the frail human spirit. She's strong but she's frazzled, hopeful but haggard, hanging on but only by a thread, the way anyone would be.

The real standout for me was Lesley-Ann Brandt as "Cassie," the sleek, swift, graceful but no-less-deadly yin to Ving's yang, his brazen lieutenant with the same heightened sense of caution but laced with a healthy dose of attitude and alluring femininity. She's an alpha female, that over-achiever you could never hate no matter how much you wanted, and now she's got a sword. Ms. Brandt commanded the screen, and conquered her role like a pack of flesh-eaters.

I could go on and on about every single member of the cast; for me, there were no misses: rounding out the rest of the main pack we had Eddie Steeples as "Billy," the Everyman counterpart to "Ramona," Gary Weeks as "Mack," the affable and confident quarterback of the gang, Johnny Pacar as "Julian," the playful wildcard of the bunch, the smirking idealist to "Mack's" noble pragmatist, and the always great Gerald Webb as headstrong and protective "Kevin." Not to mention Anya Monzikova, Robert Blanche and Lilian Bowden as "The Archers," another tough-as-nails survivor clique that adds stunning beauty and stealthy brawn to the fight.

Overall then, what you have here is a smart, fresh, innovative and thrilling entry into a tired genre. As much as people say there's nothing new in zombie movies, Zombie Apocalypse manages to do just that, thanks to a thoughtful and epic script from Engler and Peck. If this is what they can accomplish right out of the gate, I can't wait to see their 2nd, 3rd, and 25th efforts. The visual effects from Joe Lawson and his Awesome Team (feel free to put that on the back of satin jackets, guys) pull not a single gory punch. Kudos too to the make-up department for making not only believable zombies, but believable dead zombies. That's usually the first thing to derail movies like this, crappy effects. Zombie Apocalypse doesn't come close to having that problem. I bet Halloween with these dudes is rad.

Chris Ridenhour provided the score, and once again it's out-of-the-park. I want to hire him to score my life, the way people hire personal chefs; with his accompaniment, everything is more exciting and important, I'd never do the dishes the same way again.

And bringing it all together is director Nick Lyon, who here has crafted a visually-stunning and violently-beautiful film. The fight scenes are manic yet graceful, the kills are spectacularly bloody, the image of a ruined world is fully-realized and realistic, the story moves naturally and myriad other aspects that add up to an intense, intimate and atmospheric film full of thrills, kills, chills, hills, blood, guts and gore. Easily the best non-theatrical zombie film I've seen in a while, heck, maybe ever. And I say that not as an Asylum-fanatic, which I am, but as a zombie film freak. Helluva good time, this one.

Try to catch the re-run on November 15th at 7pm, because after that it's six weeks or so until the DVD release.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, in the context of a made for TV movie it was really good. The special effects did enough for me, the zombie animals were something new, something different and really a great idea. The cast was great. Gary Weeks is an up and coming star and he really carried his scenes. You're not going to get a big screen budget so get over it. The setting was great, the Zombie's were great and they actually died. Just a great movie all-around for what it was and my kids enjoyed it, which was the cool part.