Friday, June 27, 2014

Schlockbusted #13: Stalled

I have the poster for Shaun of the Dead right above my bed. I look at it every day, which is why I know that the poster image for Stalled is a deliberate reference to it, which wouldn't be quite so obvious if the movie didn't also sport a shameless critical plug citing it as a worthy successor to the classic zombie comedy. Beyond that one image, the British sense of humor, and the lighter tone, the movies have little in common, but then that's probably more than enough to engender a comparison. For the record, no, its not as good, as if it could be, but that would be an unfair judgement for any movie, and for what it is Stalled is a surprisingly funny and I would say mostly original take on the genre Edgar Wright all but created ten years ago.

Wow. Has it really been ten years since Shaun of the Dead? It doesn't seem like it, especially since it was the first of a trilogy that only just wrapped up last year. I suppose with the glut of imitators having never really stopped since it premiered, its easy to forget just how long ago it was when we first saw a comedy about zombies done so effortlessly. Perhaps we have been seeking a worthy successor all this time without even realizing it. Stalled is not that. It is however very funny, and surprisingly heartfelt in the end, much more so than you would expect for a movie set primarily in the toilet of a Women's restroom. That would be the double meaning implied by the title, just clever enough to set up a movie that does quite a lot with such a small arena to work with.

The lead is W.C. (get it?), a janitor in an office temporarily waylaid first by some unexpected and possibly gratuitous lesbianism, and then just as unexpectedly by a horde of flesh eating zombies gradually invading the room just outside, leaving him trapped and, at least he thinks at first, alone. The many and varied ways in which he tries and fails to extricate himself from this situation provide the majority of the humor, mostly in watching him flail pathetically as each plan of escape blows up in his face, but the heart of the movie lies in his interactions with the only other major character, a woman he eventually finds out is hiding in the next stall over.

We never see her until the very end, and the reveal represents a twist that I honestly didn't see coming (personally I was banking on her not being real, a symptom of his stress induced psychosis). Instead, he talks to her through a drawing he makes of what he thinks or hopes she looks like, and she fills in the rest with her voice and sardonic sense of humor. Its a burgeoning sort of romance that believe it or not had echoes of Her, and while the way it ends is maybe not quite as heartbreaking, don't be surprised if you don't get a little choked up by how it all turns out. I won't spoil it, except to say that its a somewhat tragic exploration of the often cruel side of office politics that sneaks up on you very nicely.

Speaking of office politics, there's a thread in this movie that goes mostly unspoken and adds so much appreciated nuance to what might otherwise have been a pretty broad comedy. The banality of office life is skewered in a very subtle way when you find that this is all taking place during one of those unbearably sad office Christmas parties, with the various zombified employees showing up in increasingly ridiculous holiday themed costumes up to and including a zombie Jesus Christ himself. Its barely commented upon and doesn't really factor into the plot too much until a somewhat bittersweet ending, but its the kind of little thing that can make a movie so much better when it isn't focused upon.

Stalled is available on Netflix streaming as of this writing and if you're a fan of Shaun of the Dead or any of the zombie comedies to come afterwards, you'd be remiss to not give this one a chance. If only for the accomplishment of being set in a bathroom stall and never in 90 minutes making a single poop joke until literally the last line of the film, its worth a watch. Sometimes it feels more like an extended sketch than a full on feature, but it never overstays its welcome and changes things up just enough throughout to keep you interested. Presumptuous advertising aside, Stalled is at the very least a loving homage to what has come before, and one of the better ones at that.

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