Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Cinema File #73: "Rise Of The Zombies" Review


I don't know if my distaste with the over-saturation of cookie cutter zombie apocalypse movies is finally turning back in on itself, but somehow, after sitting through this SyFy Channel Original movie with very little if anything remotely resembling originality, I still found myself generally entertained throughout.

Rise of the Zombies is basically every zombie movie you've ever seen or ignored because you figured it was just like every zombie you've ever seen. It goes through all the normal tropes with all the stock characters you've come to expect, and yet I can't say I didn't enjoy myself at least enough that I wasn't bored watching. The action is well done and the cast, which is what attracted me to the movie in the first place, all put in pretty good performances considering the well trodden material. It doesn't add anything to the canon of the zombie genre, but it does its job better than most low budget throwaway movies of its kind, and maybe my standards have just sunk that far that that is good enough for me.

Before they cut it into a movie, this was originally planned as the horrifying fifth season of My Name Is Earl



The initial premise of survivors holed up in an abandoned Alcatraz Island is a bit novel I suppose, but its a location that is left far too quickly, giving way to a more traditional city setting, which is sort of a trend for this movie, establishing things that could turn into something great, and then casting them away before they have time to blossom into anything. Levar Burton's character is set up as a scientist looking for a cure, and he makes some head way that makes you think his plot thread will come back later on, but instead its just discarded with a hand grenade before it comes to anything good. Then later, French Stewart shows up as yet another cure seeking scientist, only driven nearly to madness due to his predicament, but he only has at most five minutes of screen time at the end, when he really should have been the main focus of the movie, being one of the few interesting characters on display.

Danny Trejo, best known for being in literally every movie ever

Instead we have two groups that split off after the escape from the island, one led by Muriel Hemmingway and Ethan Suplee, and the other by Danny Trejo, who represents another thread dashed far too quickly for my tastes. Speaking of things moving quickly, the one thing I can say this movie establishes about its zombies that most films lack is the rate of infection, which in this case is thirty seconds flat. I don't know how I feel about this change to the normal slow and or random zombification of other movies. On the one hand, it adds a further layer of urgency to an already tense situation, where the enemy's ranks grow instantly with each bite, but at the same time, it completely eliminates the opportunity for a lot of good zombie-related human drama, giving a person who has been bitten no time to consider what he might want to do about it, either kill himself, let himself change, or hide it from his fellow survivors out of fear.

I know this image is in the poster, but I just love the middle dude's expression.

Throughout the first half, they keep cutting back to this pregnant women, as if she's going to be a major character, perhaps as a new messiah, "baby holds the key to the cure" kind of subplot, but instead she's only important to one scene. Admittedly, its a very powerful scene that I quite enjoyed, but it illustrates just how scatter-shot the script for this movie was. Sometimes zombies can swim, and sometimes they can't; sometimes they can climb, sometimes they can't. Themes and motifs are introduced, then never paid off, like the idea of how one maintains any faith in a loving God in the wake of a zombie horde, or the discovery that electricity seems to be the zombies' Achilles Heel, disrupting the virus that animates them, which technically comes back in the end, but doesn't seem to be any more useful against them than any other weapon previously seen used against them. Then at the very end, as if only to throw in a reference to Evil Dead, they just all of a sudden reveal that you can arrest the virus by cutting off the infected area fast enough. Again, its a visceral last minute moment that I did enjoy to a point, but a little more consistency would have been nice.

Zombie baby, or newborn with Tyson Tat?

Still, all my complaints aside, at the very least Rise of the Zombies knows exactly the kind of movie it is making and does a satisfactory job trotting out all the old standards. For most, its probably not nearly innovative enough to justify the effort of watching it, bringing nothing new to the table tonally or otherwise, but if you don't need to reinvent the wheel every time in order to enjoy some zombie gore every once in while, there might be just enough here to make this worth your while.

 
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