Archive for August 3, 2015

poster

Having finished a re-read of Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade’s six-issue run on Crossed + One Hundred (which I just reviewed, as well) earlier in the day, I was still in the mood for more “post-zombie-apocalypse” stuff, and what do you know? Right now the Netflix instant streaming queue is full to bursting with “living dead” flicks I’ve never even heard of , much less seen, so I did a bit of legwork, cross-referencing various titles against their IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes entries, and eventually settled on a 2015 (hey! that’s this year!) low-budget indie effort from Australia called Plague, featuring not a single name with which I was previously familiar.

That’s never a bad place to start in my book, and given that I was hoping for something that offered a bit of a new and unique take on the well-worn tropes involved, this one sounded like a low-key, unassuming winner in book. I certainly didn’t expect to find anything as flat-out revelatory as Crossed + One Hundred, mind you, but then that’s probably impossible. Just give me something reasonably good and reasonably different, and what the hell, I’ll be reasonably satisfied.

plague-2014-14-may-2015-3

I’m pleased to report that Plague (which is also available on Blu-ray and DVD, but not having seen it on those physical storage formats, I can’t fairly comment on the technical specs for either one), uninspired  — and, let’s be honest, uninspiring — title aside, is both different and good, although, in fairness, that “reasonably” prefix definitely needs to remain in place . Like the just-mentioned Moore/Andrade comic book mini-masterpiece, it plays against expectations and utilizes a bog-standard set-up to tell us a story quite unlike anything we were expecting going in, and I give it “props” for that fact alone. But before I go any further down this road, perhaps it would be best if I explained,  in generally “spoiler-free” terms,  exactly what the hell I’m talking about here.

03f452e9f3f6fda77fc7f1f46d3ef01b

Writer/co-director (along with Nick Kozakis) Kostas Ouzas puts the audience on uneasy footing right from the start by dropping us into the action right after some sort of semi-climactic occurrence has happened to an already-assembled (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) rag-tag bunch of “zombie holocaust” survivors. No watching how the band came together in the first place or anything of the sort here, we’re simply informed via dialogue that these folks have been making a go of it together as best they can for some time, and that just-concluded (but, crucially, unseen) events have led to them leaving behind a guy named John, which is causing some friction given that his wife, Evie (played by Tegan Crowley) is still with the group and, understandably, wants to try to go back and get him, wherever he is.

The dynamics of the makeshift less-than-family are quickly established, with Gary (Don Bridges) as the voice of reason and Bob (Nicholas Stribakos) as the arrogant and potentially dangerous hothead, with the other three characters (all women) falling somewhere in between — and then just as quickly dispensed with, and by violent means at that, when one of the polar opposites (bet you can guess which) kills the other and takes off with the ladies, minus Evie, who opts to stay behind and let either death or, preferably, her husband find her.

Fortunately for her it’s the latter, as it turns out that John (Scott Marcus) is very much alive and has somehow managed to make his way back to their —here’s another cliche for you — abandoned farmhouse encampment. There’s just one problem — it seems he flunked “Survival 101” just like she did,  and it’s pretty apparent that the two of them aren’t long for this world, either separately or together.

plague-cinema-australia1

 

Fear not, though — help soon arrives in the form of solo “wanderer of the wastelands” Charlie (Steven Jianai), who has all the hard-scrabble, alpha-male skills any self-respecting tight-knit band of survivors might require. Hell, this guy could probably make fire out of one stick (I know, I know — just break it in half so you’ve got two) and kill a kangaroo with his bare hands. He’s exactly what our over-matched city-slickers need.

Here’s the rub, though — turns out he just might be a bigger monster than the zombies he’s “protecting” them from.

And so, after all that set-up (and, it has to be said, some great gore effects),  Plague is really just a cleverly-disguised slow-burn psychodrama with themes straight out of the oldest “be careful what you wish for” morality play you care to mention. But ya know what? I kinda dug it anyway, given that Crossed + One Hundred employs a “bait-and-switch” of its own (although admittedly on a much larger, and more fundamentally frightening, scale) , so this flick sort of kept the accidental “theme” of my afternoon going. Yes, the actors are clearly pretty new to the game and really do struggle with the “believability factor” at times (particularly Crowley), but by and large they manage as best they can with their material, and that material  at least contains a few pleasingly unexpected twists and turns, even if they are a bit drawn out — which is my semi-polite way of saying that pacing is a problem here, and that those with a short attention span might find their mind wandering a bit.

For those who choose to stick with it, though, Plague offers a pretty nice payoff in the end, and handles its business with a reasonable amount of professionalism and, crucially, heart. Ouzas and Kozakis may be a little rough around the edges as filmmakers, but they seem to be willing to take a few risks in the hopes of delivering their audience a bigger reward later on. They’re also unafraid to throw you — and themselves — in at the deep end and let their movie sink or swim based on its script, its characters,  and a few well-placed “gotcha!” moments. None of which adds up to an unequivocally succesfull movie in this particular case, but given a few more years and a few more flicks under their belt, they might just have one in them. This is hardly “can’t-miss” viewing by any stretch, it’s true,  but if you happen to come across it you’ll probably find it a plenty good use of an hour and a half or so of your time and will walk away from it at least somewhat glad for having seen it.

 

Crossed+100-3-AmHistory

 

Fair warning : there are a few key “spoilers” ahead — not just for Crossed + One Hundred, but for Southern Bastards and The Wicked + The Divine, as well — so if you’re not completely caught up on any of these books, skip the seventh paragraph following this one, pick up again at the tenth, and you’ll be in good shape. Got that? Okay, my conscience is clear.

*********************************************************************

A little while back, I reviewed the first issue of Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade’s Crossed + One Hundred from Avatar Press, and I’m not sure how many of you took my advice and jumped on-board with it, but I’m guessing it must not have been a very big number because my inbox hasn’t been flooded with emails from random strangers thanking me for turning them onto this series (although I did receive one, which I appreciate) and, frankly, there’s just no way I’d be confronted with that sort of “radio silence” if folks had heeded my words.

I  say that with full confidence because, now that the book’s initial six-issue run in over (which is all that it had originally been slated to go for, but apparently sales have been good enough that Avatar has picked it up as a monthly ongoing, with Si Spurrier taking over the writing duties from Moore as of issue #7), it’s safe to label this first “story arc” of Crossed + One Hundred as far and away the best goddamn post-apocalyptic “zombie comic” ever.

Crossed_100-4wrap_1024x1024

Trust me when I say that I don’t throw a compliment that all-encompassing down lightly — I only do it because Moore and Andrade have unquestionably earned it. Seriously — those who are still picking up The Walking Dead on a monthly basis (or even my beloved Empire Of The Dead) and are also reading this know that there’s just no comparison. To put things as plainly as possible, every other four-color exploration of the “undead plague” is hollow, one-dimensional stuff when judged by the standards set by Crossed + One Hundred. Robert Kirkman has been fleshing out his post-zombie-apocalypse world for, what? A decade now? And he still hasn’t put as much thought into the hows and whys of humanity’s survival as Moore obviously has here. To use a cliche, this is “next level” stuff — from the mutated language, to the makeshift technology, to the new attitudes toward sex, to the fundamental changes to basic morality itself — and the damned thing is, when you sit down and think about it for a minute, it all makes perfect sense.

Consider : if you woke up tomorrow and found yourself transported to a world that was a century removed from a civilization-destroying “extinction event,” one with no more television and radio broadcasting much less an internet, what do you think the most valuable commodity would be? Knowledge. Specifically. knowledge of the past. And where would you find such knowledge? Books. The printed page would be your only lifeline to what came before, and would be essential not only for learning  how we came to find ourselves where we are, but for understanding what culture itself really was, and what it meant — valuable information indeed in a world where only a vague approximation of it still exists, and has been developed entirely on the basis of necessity rather than choice.

Let’s take it a step further. With no more movies and TV, what would humans do for fun? Well, there’s always fucking, and in a makeshift “society” where the shit’s already hit the fan and day-to-day survival is far from a guaranteed prospect, would archaic notions of purely “homo” and “hetero” sexuality still exist (assuming they were ever relevant for anything beyond social control in the first place)? Would people still refrain from talking about sex in “polite” company? Hell — would there even be such a thing as “polite” company, given that the forefathers and foremothers of the small number of people still around would have to have been a pretty hard-assed bunch?

Crossed-100-6-AmericanHistoryX

Moore has fully developed all of these various hypotheticals in his mind, and that’s a key difference between Crossed + One Hundred and every other zombie comic (or, for that matter, zombie movie or zombie TV show) out there. But notice I said “a” key difference, and not “the” key difference —that’s because, there’s one other, and it’s the most brazen, “balls-y” thing you’ve come across in some time. Sit tight, and I’ll explain.

e638f4af40eac024862da3471d194f61

The “bait and switch” is a common tactic in today’s comic book landscape — in Jason Aaron and Jason Latour’s Southern Bastards, the guy we thought was our protagonist gets killed at the end of issue #4, and the book’s next “arc” gave us a four-part story about the series’ chief villain, while over in the pages of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine, our lead character makes it all the way to issue # 12 before being killed off (in spectacular fashion, and right after her greatest wish came true) and the narrative shifting gears to — well, I don’t rightly know where that book is headed now (although I remain curious to find out). In issue #5 of Crossed + One Hundred, though, Moore does his peers (okay, fair enough, perhaps Alan Moore doesn’t really have any “peers”) one better by pulling the whole conceptual framework of what we’ve been reading out from under us and letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that this book was never about humanity’s survival at all — not matter how much rich detail he poured into it — but about the survival of the so-called “Crossed,” and about how all of our efforts were as naught compared to theirs.

How fundamental a shift is this? Not to put things too lightly, but also not wanting to give too much else away in terms of “spoilers,” I’ll say only this much — it turns out that it was their world all along, we were just ignorant and/or arrogant enough to believe that it was ours. Moore then doubles down on the impact of this revelation by allowing his protagonist, archivist Future Taylor, to survive (along with some, but not all, of her supporting “crew”), but what does that even mean when confronted with the reality that, in Ms. Taylor’s own words, “I didn’t know we were all just wishful fiction”?

And that, friends, is how you pull off a “bait and switch” with intelligence and meaning and raise it above the level of mere storytelling contrivance. The climactic sixth issue plays out more or less exactly the way we believe it will know that we know the “Crossed” are intelligent, and that they’ve spent a century absorbing the “teachings” of an honest-to-God serial killer and planning their revenge on humanity, which is to say — it’s an absolute fucking nightmare. But it’s a nightmare that matters and has impact beyond just the visceral (although Gabriel Andrade does visceral like nobody’s business — but more on him in a second) because Moore has fleshed out his post-doomsday world so well.

61baa5e26de66ae29aaa9601726b7791

Of course, any script this detailed needs art equal to the task, and damn, Andrade sure has proven to be the right guy for the job here. Every wildly varying scenario he’s tasked with detailing — from a Muslim colony in Appalachia (of all places) to a “Crossed” encampment made from  skulls and bones is rendered in exquisitely-realized detail, and his characters all look like distinctly unique people who have weathered a hell of a lot in their time on this planet. He’ll be continuing with the series when Spurrier takes over, and that’s very good news indeed not only for the sake of visual contnuity, but because  he’s firmly established himself as an artist worth following.

crossed100-23

And speaking of following — when it comes to Crossed + One Hundred, I’ll be doing just that. Spurrier’s got some big shoes to fill, and only time will tell whether or not Avatar’s decision to continue this comic proves to be a wise one, but, if you’ll permit me to adopt the language of our post-plague survivors for a moment, I’m going to keep on opsying this wishful fiction because these first six issues were fuck movie.