Thursday, April 9, 2015

Zombie Apocalypse (2011, USA)

Another movie — like Rise of the Zombies (2012) and Zombie Massacre (2013) — that, much like drawing straws, we simply pulled from the some multiple dozens of zombie flicks in the "Zombie Movies" folder on our pal's computer. And as we found out later, Zombie Apocalypse is even directed by the same man (Nick Lyon) who later made Rise of the Zombies (2012), which is also a TV film from The Asylum but, in all truth, is a lot worse than this sloppily diapered baby here.
In Zombie Apocalypse, for all its flaws, the post-apocalyptic world is presented a lot more effectively and with greater care — indeed, we only saw one scene in which cars were still being driven in the background despite the facts that: 1) EMP (electromagnetic pulse) bombs had been dropped at the start of the movie, and 2) zombies don't drive. The script is a bit less cookie-cutter in nature than in Rise and, aside from the basic group-of-survivors-looking-for-a-safe-haven premise common of most zombie flicks, its only truly obvious pilferings are its samurai-wielding babe of minority background (delectable Lesley-Ann Brandt as Cassie, seen below not from the movie), its guilt-ridden leader (Gary Weeks as Mack),* and its arrow-shooters — one and all taken from The Walking Dead.
*Luckily, however, the movie doesn't spend too much time on the leader's sense of guilt for all those who have died while under way.
Zombie Apocalypse is a bit low on the known names phoning in a rent-paying performance, the only truly familiar face (to us  and/or at the time of its filming) being Ving Rhames doing his typically stoic man's man, named Henry, whose favorite weapon for dealing with zombies is a sledge hammer. For that, it is one of the rare Asylum films to have a face that has gone on to do bigger things: Ramona, the whiny blonde that you hope will die but who never does, is played by Taryn Manning, seen below not from the movie, who has gained some recognition in the US at least for her stints on Hawaii 5-0 and Orange Is the New Black. In any event, the acting in the movie can't be really be criticized: everyone does well enough, and since an inordinate amount of time is spent on character development, you sort of get to like a couple of them.
Ramona (Manning) is one of the first characters to be introduced in Zombie Apocalypse, one of three friends that at the outbreak of the virus took refuge in a mountain cabin and, weeks later, are forced to return to the ruins of civilization in search for food. Of course, being as stupid as they are hungry, they make way too much noise trying to get at a few candy bars and are attacked by zombies, which means the early departure of the non-character Kevin (Gerald Webb, who is supposedly seen somewhere in Camel Spiders [2012]). Luckily Henry, Mack, Romona and Julien (Johnny Pacar) show up to save Romona and the dude with hipster bad hair (Eddie Steeples as "Billy"), and the rest of the film is spent following the rag-tag group of survivors as they make their way to the coast of San Pedro in the hope of catching a legendary ferry to the legendary island of survivors, Catalina Island. (How the ferry should work after all the EMPs at the start of the film is never broached in the movie.)
Even before the housing-market meltdown a few years ago, Los Angeles had more than enough deserted housing projects perfect for a movie like this: the abandoned and overgrown housing estates work well representing a world gone dead. (For comparison of such abandoned projects, now to earlier days, take a gander at the old non-zombie exploiter, Suburbia [1984 / trailer].) In general — and unlike Lyon's follow-up Rise of the Zombies Zombie Apocalypse exploits its urban locations well, whether a strip mall or downtown Los Angeles, and this does a lot to make the movie work. It's a shame the script just wasn't a bit tighter, and the abundant CGI a little better. There's a scene involving a machine gun, for example, that totally forgets that the gun was left blocks behind the good guys trapped in the house, and the whole bit in the deserted high-school "safe haven" defies normal intelligence — really: you know it's a zombie apocalypse, but you wander around a body-strewn "safe haven" yelling "Hello? Anyone alive here?" until the hoards of un-dead come running? Makes you wonder how any of them got as far as they did in the first place. Also, we can't help but notice the scriptwriters' fascination with certain bodily functions: first, the need to pee is used for some character and friendship building between the ladies, and another character later meets his end basically because he's obsessed with finally being able to sit down on a toilet (in this case, a Johnny-on-the-Spot). Did a German write the script?
Zombie Apocalypse does briefly touch upon three things seldom seen in other zombie movies, all new concepts of varying viability for future inclusion in the zombie cannon. The most interesting one is that the zombies are getting more intelligent as time goes on, to the point of setting traps or running at the sight of guns.* (The development of intelligence, however, is uneven, so if the zombies run from guns in one scene, they don't in the next.)
*OK, one finds this in Romero's later movies as well, but I can't remember if they go as far as to set traps. 
Of less viability is the concept that the zombie virus can spring over onto animals. It is not without reason that, in 28 Days Later (2002 / trailer), the concept of the virus affecting animals was quickly dropped after the opening scene with the chimpanzee: there are too many animals in the world. Shit, even if the legendary number of one rat to every person is a myth, think about how many animals there are to every person — we'd have the chance of a snowball in hell, even if only mammals were susceptible to the virus. (Thus, as far as we are concerned, it is an idea best dropped now.) In any event, the latter "new" aspect is the basis of the big final scene and required  Hemingwayesque sacrifice of a character, a scene marred by crappy CGI.
The last new aspect is one also seen and mentioned in Silent Night, Zombie Night (2009): not all zombies are created equal — in ZA, there are the normal shambling dead and "runners". As there is a direct reference to this difference in ZA, unlike in Nick Lyon's follow-up zombie flick, Rise of the Zombies — in which all zombies are obviously likewise not created equal — the zombies of varying speeds don't come across as a directorial oversight. As a result, the mixing of the classic shambler with the modern speedster doesn't jar all that much.
We enjoyed director's Lyon's later Rise of the Zombies for what it was: a laughably crappy movie. Zombie Apocalypse, however, is a bit less easy to simply dismiss as crappy. It may not really be a good movie — it has way too many flaws to be anything more than second rate — but is also not really a laughably terrible movie: for all the balls it drops, it also catches too many to simply be dismissed as a lost cause or hilarious example of bad filmmaking. As a TV movie, it really isn't all that terrible, and it is actually better than the way too many disappointing episodes of its inspiration, The Walking Dead. (As a DVD release, however, Zombie Apocalypse arguably also lacks the added requirements of gratuitous nudity, but then, most films do nowadays.)
Zombie Apocalypse is, perhaps, simply what it is: generic, low budget zombie movie, nothing spectacularly good or bad, but OK for a zombie fix if one is needed. A flick for zombie completists, in other words, and not horror movie fans.

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