Friday, April 8, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Colin (2008)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

It is the zombie apocalypse again (and again). Clutching a bloody hammer in one hand, a young Briton named Colin (Alastair Kirton) stumbles into a house in the suburbs. We never quite learn if it is his home or the home of a friend, but this is not going to matter in the long run.
Colin is hurt and seems to be at the end of his strength, therefore letting his guard down enough to get ambushed and bitten by the building's sole, undead inhabitant. He manages to kill the zombie, but soon succumbs to his wounds.

Hours or days later, Colin wakes up as one of the shambling masses himself. From here on out, we follow him closely for a dead man's perspective of the end of the world. We watch as he eats his first victim, as he looks at a traffic sign and reacts to music like he is trying to remember something, but doesn't even understand the concept of memory anymore.

He meets and bites his sister Linda (Daisy Aitkens), takes part in a bloody mass attack on a student dorm and falls directly into the cellar of someone whose dreams of dead and blind women seem to have come true via the apocalypse.

Later, Linda and her boyfriend (Tat Whalley) catch Colin in the desperate hope to reawaken his personality. Perhaps showing him his mother (Kerry Owen) will work?
After this hasn't worked out quite as catastrophically as one could suspect, Colin shambles into the crosshair of more organized survivors in form of a killing squad.

Just when I had given up hope for anything not absolutely dreadful coming out of the backyard zombie film sub-genre, this British production shambles around the corner with a certain amount of hype and nearly floors me.

Colin was supposedly shot on a budget of £45, but with a consumer-grade (yet probably not too cheap) digital camera available and a bunch of surprisingly talented actors working for free, I'm not sure I'd see the film's budget as quite this low. Be that as it may, what makes the film as interesting as it is isn't that it was shot for very little money, but that it was shot very little money and turned out to be an excellent film.

For once, I don't need to hesitate to give most of the props a movie deserves to its director, seeing that Mark Price not only directed, but also edited, scripted, and shot the film. I wouldn't be surprised if he also helped cook the coffee. This is of course not uncommon in backyard productions, but where most films of this price-class could use a few more hands doing the work, Price has talent enough to make shooting a film with the smallest of crews look simple.

However, what makes Colin worthwhile is not that it was made on the cheap, but that it is so well done that, while watching, I very soon found myself not being impressed by how good it was despite its budget, but how good it was, period. There is really no connection between this film and the hateful lack of ambition that makes too much backyard horror filmmaking so hard to stand. I usually avoid calling these films "indie" horror, out of respect for the quality "indie" suggest in other media like games and music. Colin, I have no problem calling indie horror.

By now you, dear reader, might ask yourself what exactly makes Colin so special to this long-winded guy who is rambling at you like a mad street person (that would be me).

First and foremost, it is the film's mood. It is shot in a grainy style that has much more in common with the texture and colour of 70s horror cinema, giving everything that happens an immediacy I still like to call documentary, however misused this word has become by now. Price seems to have had a very exact picture of when and where to shoot hand-held and when to use a tri-pod in his mind, giving the film a rhythm permanently changing between nervous action and deliberate shambling, a rhythm very much its own.

There is a real sense of weight to the proceedings. We basically have a nobody's view of the apocalypse by always staying close to Colin himself. At times, we even share his inability to fully comprehend what is happening around him, the everyday surroundings the action takes place in becoming strange and frightening through their desolation.
This is part of where the sadness of the film lies - it were not so much the (nicely done) gore set pieces which got to me while watching the film, but the loss of humanity the zombies and the survivors share and real feeling of hopelessness. This is of course nothing new in the annals of zombie cinema, yet as long as it is done as poignant as here, originality isn't really of much import.

Between the carnage and the sadness, the film also has room for some fine pieces of dry black humour, not enough of it to derail the film, yet enough to add to its grounding in reality.

I was also struck by how different this British zombie apocalypse is from the usual American one - cars and guns are nearly completely absent, making the efforts of the survivors more desperate, and through that desperation, more terrifying.

And the film really is terrifying at times, grasping the horror of zombies as a shambling mass of hunger made flesh with a mind only set on consuming, unconscious of the way it makes its victims part of its own, even unconscious of the reality of its victims as anything beside food. There is something claustrophobic and unconsciously cruel about the big zombie attacks in Colin I found very disturbing.

All of these qualities could still have gone to waste without the right lead actor, because Colin is the person/thing who keeps the fragmented narrative together. A bad performance here would have sunk the film completely. Fortunately, Kirton is quite brilliant in his role. He effortlessly suggests faint traces of humanity without ever falling into the trap of playing his zombie as something so normal as a stupid, flesh-eating man. The rest of the actors doesn't do much worse; the fact that we only witness fragments of their characters' stories makes it easier to relate to them than if we had to watch them emote in long and nuanced dialogue scenes actors working for free probably wouldn't be able to deliver as believable as needed. As the film is constructed, everyone is only glimpsed in moments of utter desperation or sadness, dying or damned.

Call me a loon, but I think there's a real sense of poetry in Colin, an emotional weight found only in the best zombie films. And you know what, I think Colin is one of the best zombie films I know.

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