Tuesday, February 2, 2010

After Dark Horror Fest 4: Zombies Of Mass Destruction

This is another movie where the cast and crew were around. In fact, we kept seeing the director hanging around in the lobby while we killed time between movies. In a lot of ways, this movie is the antithesis of The Graves. The direction and editing is fantastic: It's smart, funny, campy, sharp and pops.

And at the end, I began to think if I stayed for director Kevin Hamedani's Q&A, I'd end up smacking him in the face.

But let's talk about the good: This is the story of Frida Abbas (Janette Armand), a Persian who's come back to her small northwestern hometown of Port Gamble, just in time for a zombie outbreak. Frida's dropped out of Princeton, much to the disappointment of her traditional father (played wonderfully by, I'm guessing, the director's actual father). No less disappointing is her taste in boyfriends (Ryan Barret as Derek, who composes a song largely composed of repeating "Frida" over-and-over again).

Meanwhile, closeted homosexual Tom (Doug Fahl) is back from New York with boyfriend Lance (Cooper Hopkins), preparing to come out to his mom. And hippie Cheryl (Cornelia Moore) is running to oust Mayor Burton (James Mesher), who is busy commiserating with the desultory Reverend Haggis (Bill Johns) about how things have gone to Hell.

Oh, yeah, and there are zombies, but nobody seems to notice. (Very Shaun of the Dead.)

As I said, the script pops. Lots of jokes and cute plot points, so that when the first zombie attack occurs, you are genuinely shocked. (This movie actually shocks pretty well, though it never achieves the tension you get from other zombie comedy classics, like Shaun or Return of the Living Dead.) The director's hand is as sure in the action sequences as in the character building.

So, about the slapping?

Well, first of all, this movie is pretty left. Not entirely left and, in fact, some of the best parts are the ones where the political tilt is dropped for a good joke. But it starts with the Persian girl being accosted by a redneck family. The wife apologizes for the war in Iraq and says they always vote Democrat. The husband demurs. ("I don't vote for pussies!") And, of course, they don't know the difference between Iraqi and Iranian.

Eh. It's fine. It's funny enough, at first. But at a later point, the redneck dad decides he's going to torture Frida, and the torture theme is re-introduced in the church later on, in reference to the gay couple. The movie really breaks down at these points, particularly the later scenes in the church. The third act church scenes, while funny, completely rob the movie of any momentum.

But there was something else that began to bug me, early on, and more and more as the movie progressed. The initial horror movie scene—the one I talked about in reference to The Graves, where the movie ceases to be one kind of movie and clearly becomes a horror flick—is shocking and also (intentionally) kind of funny, because it's so far over the top.

And there are other similarly over the top gore scenes, including a pan-by of a body which is sending up two small steady streams of blood like a fountain, zombies eating their own body parts, and so on. Clearly meant as campy fun.

But there's a cruelty there, too. The director seems to relish some of the really painful parts, to the point that borders on torture porn. Too, there are scenes of our Persian and gay characters hacking up zombies that smack of revenge fantasy. (Note that Hamedani is a native of a small Washington town which both makes one think he's relating real experiences and also maybe indulging a bit.) I realized halfway on that the only smart and really likable characters were the ones from out of town, with a nod to Frida's dad, who gets more sympathy than any other character.

And there's a scene at the end with a fence that commemorates the attacks in pictures on letters to the dead which has some funny aspects to it on the one hand, but on the other seems like a tasteless comparison to 9/11.

I think that was ultimately why I wanted to slap the Director: The guy is clearly talented, extraordinarily so. He used a crew of largely inexperienced actors and crew and put together a movie that largely succeeds, and beyond expectations. But even allowing for the fact that the movie's supposed to be campy and satirical, and therefore not entirely warm, I felt like I could easily see this talent being wasted from a lack of empathy to other viewpoints.

Nonetheless, this is probably the best of show.

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