Monday, February 11, 2008

Undead (Australia)

This low-budget labor of love made in Australia in 2003 has gotten a lot of positive word-of-mouth as being some sort of Australian answer to Peter Jackson's early splatter comedies such as Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992). Is the buzz justified? Well, as the Germans like to say: "Jein." ("Jein" is a combination of "nein," the German word for "no," and "Ja," the German word for yes.) The debut film of the Brothers Spierig (Michael and Peter), Undead does indeed nod its head to Peter Jackson's early and hilariously bloody outings by using both aliens (Bad Taste) and zombies (Braindead), but whereas Peter Jackson's two films are both thoroughly satisfying, Undead is not. It is highly watchable at times and there are a number of truly inspired sequences—especially during the movie's initial 30 minutes—but the film simply can't hold the humor or momentum it begins with and, in the end, feels less like a simple letdown than like a majorly disappointing downer.
Undead starts at 150 mph. A mysterious meteor shower befalls Berkeley, a small town in the Australian outback, and in no time flat the local residents all change into flesh-eating zombies. The town's beauty queen Rene (Felicity Mason—a truly interesting beauty with absolutely amazing eyes) is already on the way out of town and towards a new life when traffic wrecks and zombies get in her way, as they do for a chicken-shit charter plane pilot and his pregnant girlfriend. Hearts get pulled out and undead brains get blown away, and soon the four of them and an obnoxious cop and his assistant are all trapped in the farmhouse the town loner Marion (Mungo McKay) as the hungry zombies begin to close in. It takes awhile for our heroes to figure out that the brains have gotta go, but until they do (and, actually, even after they do) the bullets and blood flies. And up until this point, Undead is one rocking film!
But then comes the turning point: the six take temporary refuge in Marion's underground shelter and the viewer suffers an extended scene that is neither funny nor entertaining in which the only things they do is scream and argue and scream and argue and argue and argue. Although there are still some thrilling and funny and gory scenes during the rest of the movie, Undead never really recovers from the sudden narrative paralysis that occurs in the underground shelter—and it doesn't help any either that the inane arguing is taken up again intermittedly throughout the rest of the movie.Once out of the shelter, the film tries to get moving again, but despite the often inspired visual gags and gore sequences, the steam is gone... and whatever little power left totally disperses after the aliens show up. Worse, the actual final ending is predictable a good 15 minutes before it happens. Really, it is mind-boggling that a film that starts so excellently as Undead could end up being so fucking bad.
In short: Undead takes on and offers a lot, but for all its gore and laughs, it comes across as under-developed and half-baked; maybe the gore was enough, but the laughs could and should have been more. The film is highly polished, the acting acceptable, the blood copious and the visual sight gags often hilarious, but the plot gets lost half-way through the film and the film as a whole is greatly hampered by an overabundance of dislikable characters. (Really: why have a film featuring only six characters and then making five of them unlikable and four of them so stupid that the viewer actually begins rooting for the zombies?)
All in all, Undead is a quarterback who fumbles the ball a yard away from the touchdown after running more than half the field; it's a prematurely ejaculating thick ten-inch dick; it's the falsies you discover on your stacked date, it is a VW Beetle engine under the hood of your Porsche... it is, to put it simply, a disappointment best not experienced.

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