Sunday, July 18, 2010

Undead (2003)

The charming Australian small-town of Berkeley loses a bit of its lustre when a bunch of meteorites descend, turning everyone killed by them into zombies. As if the rabid brain munchers weren't enough, the sun disappears behind a very suspicious mass of clouds that proceeds to send slightly acidic rain down to Earth in quite irregular patterns. And then there are the bright beams of light sucking animals and people into the sky, as well as the gigantic, spiky wall some fans of Cold War era Berlin have erected around town. It's all very confounding.

A hysteric group of survivors - down on her luck fish beauty queen Rene (Felicity Mason), two cops, Rene's pregnant fish beauty queen rival and hubby - escapes to the house of fashion-disabled town loony Marion (Mungo McKay), who only talks in action movie approved throat tones. Their host's social awkwardness notwithstanding, it is probably the best place to be in this particular situation, because Marion had a friendly disagreement with zombie fish and those light beams some time ago and is brilliantly prepared for an apocalypse. Well, he's also totally wrong, but the film will come to that later.

Undead is the feature film debut of the Spierig Brothers, who would go on to make the tonally extremely confused Daybreakers. This earlier film is quite a bit more consistent than their Hollywood outing, decides early on to be a zombie splatter comedy with local flavour and added nifty ideas in the spirit of young Peter Jackson and sticks with that decision enough to not feel as if it was written by fourteen different people who couldn't for their lives be bothered to coordinate what their film's supposed to be about.

As it goes with splattery comedies, not every joke is a hit (especially not with someone as bitter and humourless as your reviewer), but the Spierigs pace their film fast enough that no single idea overstays its welcome enough to become truly annoying.

Personally, I could care less about those scenes in the movie's second act that are mainly interested in having the whole cast "comically" shout at each other for hours in a row in thick Australian accents, and would have preferred the plot's central "secret" to not only work if you can accept all the characters to be rather slow on the uptake. On the positive side, said secret is at least a nifty little idea that I haven't seen in dozens of other zombie movies before, so that's something the Spierigs got right here.

And what's up with the cops still demanding the civilians not to be armed in the middle of a frigging zombie apocalypse? I do understand that the male cop is supposed to be a comically extreme hard-ass, but I still had trouble suspending my disbelief in this point.

I found myself even less enamoured by the fact that the film's characters identify their attackers as zombies early on, yet still proceed to not shoot them in the heads. A zombie film really needs to decide if its characters live in a world where the pop cultural concept of the post-Romero zombie exists or not and then stick with consequences like the fact that people know how a zombie is supposed to be killed; the way Undead treats it is neither here nor there.

These are of course relatively minor niggles I have with the film and not big sweeping mistakes that ruin it completely. Much of the humour does work for me, the pacing is - as I already mentioned - quite good, and I very much liked the whole alien angle to the plot, so Undead is a minor recommendation. If you can take all those screaming Australians.



Anarchivist said...

I remember this fondly, because of the zombie fish. Can't go wrong with zombie fish.

houseinrlyeh said...

Zombie fish do have a better track record than zombie birds.