Saturday, January 10, 2015

Winter of the Dead (2012)

aka Meteletsa

It’s snowing in July over a Russian town. Curiously, at the very same time, the phone lines are going down and the cell phone networks become unavailable, so it might be even more than climate change going on here. In fact, before you can say “zombie apocalypse”, there’s an outbreak of slow yet somewhat shouty zombies. Muscovite TV reporter Kostya (Mikhail Borzenov) and his crew were in town to film some sort of protest, but Kostya soon teams up in running for their lives with Iskra (Tatyana Zhevnova), who is handy with a nail gun and also just happens to be the daughter of Khan (Sergey Shirochin), a gangster/businessman aiming for the governor’s seat of the region.

The rest of Kostya’s crew runs into Khan and his well-armed group of thugs, giving the film opportunity for some slight satiric jabs at oligarchs of this particular type as well as providing the opportunity to have some parts play out in our beloved/hated POV horror style. You can pretty much imagine the rest. Just add Khan’s arch enemy, part time tough guy Knyazev (Dmitriy Kozhuro), Khan’s wife/Knyazev’s girlfriend Dariya (Yuliya Yudintseva), and a priest (Aleksandr Abramovich) who’s very good at fighting zombies with axes.

So, how is the first Russian zombie movie I have encountered? In a lot of ways, like half of all the other zombie movies from around the world I’ve seen, going through the same time tired plot beats in generally the same ways. Could we call a moratorium on the “loved one becomes a zombie thing” at least? I know, the concept as it is still is horrifying but the tireless repetition of it in every damn zombie film ever made has turned what should be an archetypal fear into a tired cliché, so why not not have it in your film?

Not surprisingly, Nikolai Pigarev’s film is at its best when it doesn’t concern the traditional plot beats, and when it attempts to turn the facts of Russian life into fodder for its zombie apocalypse. We haven’t seen the particular unpleasant tough guy type represented by Khan in many horror movies, for example, which makes his final destiny slightly disconcerting, seeing as it does suggest a degree of approval for him from the side of the film. At least, there’s no page in the zombie filmmaking rule book for him.

For my tastes, there’s really not enough of this more individual stuff in the film, and – apart from haircuts and fashion – a lot of what takes place here could happen the very same way everywhere from Timbuktu to Gdansk. Well, apart from the mild religious undertones to parts of the proceeding, but, given how little I know about the Russian Orthodox church and its ways, I’m not sure how seriously I’m supposed to read them.

Fortunately, and not totally surprising for me in a Russian film after some of the late period Soviet movies of the type Western film critics never talk about because they’re too busy pretending each country in the world only produces one type of movie I’ve seen, Winter of the Dead also finds its feet whenever it tries to be a cheap, cheesy action movie with zombies. Particularly the last third has quite a few fun moments concerning improbable acts of shooting, the eternal fight between construction machinery and zombie horde, and a big damn explosion (which our survivors escape not by the classical running away from it but by the hopefully soon-to-be classic driving away from it on a train). While this doesn’t make the tiredness of the zombie apocalypse tropes go away it does give the film a bit of a personality of its own, and should be enough to entertain people who enjoy a bit of cheap and cheesy action cinema in their zombie movies. Which I, of course, do.

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