Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Cinema File #74: "Humans Vs. Zombies" Review

After I reviewed A Cadaver Christmas, I thought I might round things out and make it a trilogy of zombie reviews with two other movies I had waiting in my queue, before I realized I had other reviews in between waiting to go out, so forgive me if this seems a little disjointed now. While Rise of the Zombies barely succeeded at just doing the bare minimum well enough not to entirely suck, today's movie, Humans Vs. Zombies, is a little more ambitious. Unfortunately, it is ultimately much less satisfying.

The title of this movie seemed absurdly obvious until I did a little research and discovered that it is actually based on a weird version of tag played on many college campuses, where some students play humans and others zombies, all LARPing their way through a fake zombie apocalypse. The movie is set up as a loving tribute to this game, essentially the joke being what would happen if a real zombie outbreak breaks out while everyone's playing through a fake one. That premise would be somewhat interesting, however it is abandoned far too quickly and gives way to a traditional zombie survival story before any humor or commentary can really be derived from it. In the end, the focus on the game in the first act only serves to waste time better spent on establishing characters, resulting in my never developing enough interest in the main group before the carnage begins.

The point shifts early on from a somewhat clever take on a real world game and becomes a story about how zombie geeks would fare during a real outbreak, and because this movie was clearly made by and for zombie geeks, they do better than one would realistically expect. At the same time, I find it hard to believe that kids who are so zombie-savvy would take so long to suspect what is happening, or be so stubborn in waving away the obvious signs. And this has got to be the slowest zombie takeover I've ever seen, with the infection taking seemingly days to kick in at times, and with a build up where we actually have news reports of incidents of the "Zombie Virus" long before it gets out of hand. And when it does, these same nay saying nerds suddenly man up and become bad ass way too quickly, an obvious ego stroke to the intended audience who are no doubt meant to identify with these kids and believe they too would be suddenly cool in the face of danger.

The only character I identified with was the security guard, a paranoid redneck spouting conspiracy theories about the Illuminati. It wasn't because I'm anything like him, but rather because he's the only character in the movie who succeeds without being an insufferable hipster douche faux zombie expert in the process. I found myself really wishing the movie would have centered around him and stopped pandering long enough to actually tell a story. Instead we get a Jack Black wannabe who is almost insulting to my intelligence in how stoked he is at finally getting the chance to fight real zombies, a virgin who literally uses one of those Zombie Survival Guide humor books (successfully!), and a gamer girl who we know is totally authentic because she calls people "Noob" all the time, even when its not in relation to their gaming ability, and just as a general insult.

Humans Vs. Zombies is far too slow to get going, forgets its premise in the first twenty minutes, meanders through zombie cliches at a bored snails pace, and ultimately, like most zombie movies it seems, doesn't know how to end. There are some bright moments, and some ideas that might have been interesting if they had been followed up on, like the notion that the outbreak may have been started deliberately by some force, but they never do anything with any of it. The last act for example finds the remaining survivors holed up in a church that is for some reason protected from the zombies, and instead of having some big reveal about the nature of the outbreak that actually flows from what we've seen and pays off plot threads already established, we get this out of nowhere throwaway reference to Gulf War syndrome which makes no sense, and has no bearing on the plot whatsoever.

This movie feels like something that seemed like a good idea at the time, trying to recapture the fun of a college game in a movie, without the production team quite knowing how to do that. It tries desperately and fails miserably at being irreverent and hip, instead just coming off as a self indulgent attempt to validate the belief held by so many weak pasty nerds that when the time comes, despite having never held a gun before in their lives, that they'll be hitting head shots every time. They won't. In a real zombie apocalypse, the people this movie is trying to pander to would die in like five seconds.

Now that would be a movie I'd like to see.

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