Okay, let’s cut to the chase, this is a good, bad movie. Bad because it is yet another low-budget zombie movie which attempts to combine horror and humour, and good because not only are its production values surprisingly high but, more importantly, it attempts to put a new twist on a very hackneyed genre.
The story: Zombies Of Mass Destrcution is set in the idyllic American island town of Port Gamble (think Amity without the shark), the residents of which are – thanks to a terror attack by Muslim extremists – in the throes of being transformed into flesh-eating zombies. Fighting off said zombies are Frida (a very watchable Janette Armand) – an American/ Iranian who’s just dropped out of Princeton; Tom (Doug Fahl), and Lance (Cooper Hopkins) – two gays in town to have a coming out dinner with Tom’s mom; and Cheryl (Cornelia Moore) – a local high school teacher and liberal, who’s just about to run for mayor.
So far, so predictable – but what sets ZMD apart and makes it an eminently and (for this reviewer) a surprisingly watchable movie, is the way various characters interpret the causes of the zombie infestation in a way that reinforces their own racial/ religious prejudice and political bias. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised,
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the movie’s tag lines, ‘a new war on terror’ and ‘a political zomedy’ flag these satirical ambitions from the word go. But whilst ZMD might wear its satirical ambitions on its sleeve, it is this that lifts ZMD above the run-of-the-mill zombie dross and gives the movie a political edge. Racism, religious intolerance, homophobia and distrust of liberals are all ridiculed, often to great effect.
For example, local lowbrow xenophobe, Joe Miller (a very good Russell Hodgekinson), sees the zombie plague as a consequence of the anti-American activities of Frida and her father, who runs a local diner. There are some lovely pieces of dialogue when he interrogates Frida – don’t ask – and tries to force her to admit that she’s in league with the terrorists. This deliciously lampoons the difficulty some rednecks have in accepting that the vast majority of Muslim Americans are loyal Americans.
A similar point is made when the local preacher, Reverend Haggis (another good turn by Bill Johns) ascribes the rise of the zombies to a retreat from God, pointing to the zombies gathering on his front lawn and proclaiming them to be “gays and pro-choicers.” Haggis also gets the best line in the whole movie, when, in trying to motivate his beleaguered congregation, he yells, “we’ve got the greatest zombie on our side… Jesus Christ!”
But well-made and funny though these and other observations are, their impact is undermined by an uneven script, and by a director who couldn’t seem to quite make up his mind what sort of film he was making. At times we have a satire, at others a broad comedy a la Shaun Of The Dead, the whole mishmash seasoned with straight-ahead horror, replete with lashings of gore and stomach churning zombie feasting. As a result, the film is a bit of a muddle: in trying to be all things to all men (and all horror fans) the film has failed to establish its own identity.
This is a shame, as I have the feeling that somewhere in this muddle – obscured by the gratuitous sight-gags, some weak editing, and the occasional bout of by-the-numbers acting – there’s a really strong story that’s struggling to break out. If the script had been more darkly humorous, if the satire more pointed, and if the director had been just a tad more courageous, this film could have been very good. As it is, it’s just good. Recommended, but with reservations. If you liked Shaun Of The Dead, I suspect you’ll like this.