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.
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.
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.
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.