International Weirdness : “Zombie Dawn”

Posted: May 14, 2012 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I guess the thinking  in the movie industry these days is that anything with “zombie” in the title is going to have at least some kind of a built-in audience, but I’m sorry to report that this Saturday afternoon proved that not to be the case.

Saturday afternoon matinees are kind of “my thing,” you see — I’ll almost always go to see a movie by myself unless humdrum tasks like yard work prevent me from doing so. Mrs. Trash Film Guru is usually working at that time, and catching a matinee gives me a good excuse to get out of the house without blowing a hole in the budget for that week. This past Saturday, my viewing choice was the $2,000-budgeted, shot-on-HD Chilean import Zombie Dawn, a flick that has been getting reasonably good notices on most of the horror sites of note and that was playing only at my preferred local multiplex of choice and precisely nowhere else in town. I figured the crowd would be sparse, as this thing isn’t exactly getting much of a publicity push from the outfit, one Eagle One Media (whatever that is), responsible for its distribution, but I figured that in our current “anything with zombies goes” media “environment,” there would be at least a few butts in the seats for a bargain show on a gloomy day, especially one that has “gone in a week” written all over it.

I was wrong. It was me, and that was it. Still, don’t let the fact that no one else is seeing this thing deter you from catching it yourself if it happens to be playing in your area. It certainly doesn’t break any new ground, you definitely have to make some allowances for its decidedly amateur production values (although the only thing that’s really annoying is the fact that the subtitles are consistently about 30 to 60 seconds behind what’s actually being said by the characters on screen — I noticed this almost immediately and I’m far from fluent in Spanish), and frankly the entire story is pretty astonishingly predictable, but Hollywood has spent a lot more money giving us a lot worse than this, and the sheer bravado of filmmakers Cristian Toledo (who also wrote the screenplay) and Lucio A. Rojas is pretty damn admirable. After all, you and I probably wouldn’t even try to get what’s essentially a homemade horror flick shown to anyone but our friends and family, but these guys have managed to secure worldwide distribution for their labor of love (and done so from Chile, no less!), and that’s worth tipping your hat to in and of itself, even if the movie in question sucks.

Which, thankfully, Zombie Dawn doesn’t. In fact, it’s a not-at-all-unpleasant way to spend 83 minutes of your life. Originality may be in short supply here — it’s essentially the story of a military (or maybe it’s mercenary, it’s hard to tell) expedition into an “infected zone” where some sort of undefined chemical accident at a mining works owned by the dastardly Hamilton corporation 15 years previously caused the locals to die, then get back up, start shambling around, and spread their infection by, you guessed it, biting people. You have to shoot the “walkers” (there’s my nod to all you Walking Dead fans out there) in the head to get rid of them. So yeah, we’re basically just playing by the “Romero rules” here, albeit in Spanish, but there’s no shame in sticking with a formula that works.

The military (or, again, maybe it’s mercenary) team is made up of the usual suspects — a leader, one Col. Rainoff (Cristian Ramos, who delivers a reasonably good performance), a few grunts with a taste for the rough stuff, and a female scientist, and their objective is to go into the quarantine zone and retrieve a girl who is known to be carrying the infection but who shows no outward signs of zombie-ism (or whatever it’s called), get her out safely, and return her to what’s left of the government for some sort of testing. Rainoff, who lost his wife and child to the outbreak when it first hit, figures this could be his ticket out of his wretched line of work provided he completes his mission successfully, but you know how this is gonna play out — he’s going to get the job done, everybody else is doomed to die, and in the end the government’s going to screw him over and kill him for all his trouble.

Like I said — nothing new under the sun and all that. Even so, the whole thing’s reasonably well-executed, the script moves along at a pretty solid little clip, the living dead are pretty competently realized, the CGI is perfectly adequate, and most of the shots are rather nicely composed with  decent-looking vistas of the lower levels of the Chilean Andes serving as backdrop. In short, it’s nice to look at, the acting’s bearable, the story gets the job done (with dialogue that features a truly impressive amount of vulgarity), the effects ain’t half bad, and it’s all over pretty quickly with an entirely satisfying and natural-feeling, if predictable, conclusion.I’ll be brutally honest and tell you that there’s really no compelling reason to rush out and see Zombie Dawn, after all it’ sure to be out on DVD and Blu-Ray fairly soon. but if you’re a fan of the undead genre, you’ll be more than glad that you did — and more than impressed at how far Rojas and Ramos were able to spread their $2,000. I’m thinking — even hoping — that we’ll be seeing them working Stateside, and with a bit more cash to play around with, sometime in the not-too-distant future.

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