Tuesday, September 27, 2005

land of the dead

I was so looking forward to this film. Romero's zombie films are some of the best crafted horror movies ever. The blend of utter scariness, deep primeval unease and the fact that the films explored the human elements within the wider end of the world scenario. From a few people trapped in a house, to those trying to live a normal life in a shopping centre to those last futile efforts to stem the tide in a military base.
Unfortunately all this cleverly thought out exploration of humanity and its reaction to the end of the world gets jettisoned in Land of the Dead in favour of big men shooting things, people being ripped apart in a number of interesting and unlikely ways and some guff about freedom. It doesn't work on so many levels. The characters are wooden and never really change, in fact most of them seem superfluous. You have some sympathy with Cholo, who simply wants to live with the rich people but gets screwed over by Dennis Hopper. He is the only one you actually might care about, though you know from the first exactly what his fate is going to be because it follows tired Hollywood conventions, basically he does something bad and gets an innocent person killed. You can join the dots from there.
And that was what really pissed me off about the film, the fact it obeyed Hollywood cliches, the evil boss at the top who you know is going to get his comeuppance to the brave freedom fighters to the use of false suspense to make the audience jump. The false suspense is the worst crime in cinema, the last resort of the scoundrel and the weakest horror trick ever.
There is no real horror, there is fear, the visceral fear of being ripped and eaten but none of the terror and sadness that the collapse of civilisation or the dead rising should inspire. It is that sense of terror that zombie films are best at exploring, that fear of possession that is the root of it all. As zombies are basically us but not us, people can romanticise vampires or werewolves. You cannot romanticise being a walking corpse.
I should have guessed though from the very start with the unnecessary explaining of what had gone before that this was a no brain film. The narrative as it unfolded should have told the backstory, that was part of the power of the other Romero Zombie films, that in both Night and Dawn you didn't really know what was happening until the first zombie pops up. Likewise Shawn of the dead even world best because there is no explanation of why or how this is happening.
Ther were some parts I liked, though they were generally undermined. The zombie who becomes the leader is good, the way it subverts the whole nature of the genre by implying they are sentient and perhaps not evil, in that these zombies are trying to lead peaceful lives until disturbed by parties of raiding humans. Something more should have been made of that, perhaps a view of the whole world that had been left devoid of humans and how the zombies had made it their own. I also liked the idea of the split between rich and poor, but they didn’t seem to show how that would have effected both rich and poor alike. How they are basically living on borrowed time and know it, stuck in a tiny part of a once great city in a once mighty nation. The unfilmed script for Day of the dead which bares many similarities to Land showed better the end of the roman empire feel, of decadence and boredom and degradation and despair.
Which brings me to more slagging off, the way that any kind of realism was jettisoned in favour of effect, which largely did not work. Hopper was awful, in that he was good in his role but his role was wrong. The fact that at the end he tries to flee in a limo with two bags of cash underlies the stupidity of the film. Those two things would be useless, and if that was his reaction to the rising dead he would have been annihilated by the very first day. The kind of people who would have survived that long would have been very hard nosed and very good at surviving. For one thing he would have packed a bigger gun. As for the Bush metaphors, well they were pretty weak and hoppers "We don’t negotiate with terrrorists" feel lame.
There are so many ways this film could have been good, if hoppers character hadn’t been basically his character from Waterworld and had instead been a charismatic bush style rich kid turned evangelical false saviour it would have been more interesting. If the poor people hadn’t just been exactly the same sort of down and outs and proud Irish revolutionaries that always crop up in post apocalyptic Hollywood films. If the characters had in fact learned, or changed, or showed how ordinary people cope with living in horrifying circumstances. But perhaps its was just after an entire city can be destroyed by a hurricane and terrible planning this film just seems like the palest of shadows, you can’t be horrified by zombies when there are bodies floating down American highstreets.
The film wasn’t even as good as the dawn remake. The fact it was billed as fifteen should have alerted me to the fact it was all about the money. I was hoping for an expansions of the genre, a comment on contemporary society or something that would make me terrified as I walked. Instead all I got was a resident evil clone. Why must bearded directors always fail me?


Blogger Hunter McEvoy said...

I'll never fail you, brother

9:32 am  

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