Tag Archives: Zombie

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

With the film adaptation of The Last of Us — in my opinion the greatest video game of all time — looking less and less likely by the day, I decided to check out the movie people are calling the next best thing: The Girl with All the Gifts (well, at least until Logan comes out later this year).

Yes, it’s a low budget British film, but I was still surprised how little buzz the film received, especially considering that it stars two very recognisable names in Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close. And it’s a post-apocalyptic zombie movie too, and the genre is super popular these days.

Whatever the reason, the world is missing out on a great zombie movie, one that would have easily been the best of the year but for the awesome Train to BusanThe Girl with All the Gifts is intriguing, thought-provoking, tense, dramatic, and above all, pretty darn horrific. It’s an excellent standalone film that ticks all the boxes, including being based on a celebrated genre book (by MR Carey).

I don’t want to give away too much, as part of the pleasure of this movie is gradually discovering the world in which it is set. But basically, the film starts off in a future in which a bunch of kids are kept in cells as prisoners and rolled out in wheelchairs every day to undergo lessons given by a teacher named Helen (Gemma Arterton). There is one young girl, played by the phenomenal newcomer Sennia Nanua, who appears to be particularly intelligent and makes a connection with Helen, much to the displeasure of a military sergeant (Paddy Considine). Meanwhile, Glenn Close is hanging around as a mysterious authority figure.

The trailers and other synopses give away a lot more than that, but I would advise trying to stay away from such spoilers and finding them out for yourself throughout the movie. I love that sense of not knowing what’s going on and having to figure it out from the hints that the film drops. Having said that, I have noted that the film has been hailed as “similar” to The Last of Us, so you can probably connect the dots, though I will also say that there are sufficient differences in both premise, plot and characters to give audiences a fresh experience.

The biggest strength of The Girl with All the Gifts is the girl, Sennia Nanua, who just steals every scene she is in with this blend of innocence, curiosity and fear. It’s a remarkably self-assured performance that carries the film from start to finish, and really helps audiences empathise with her character and care about her fate. As with most zombie movies, it’s the characters that make all the difference. You know the kind of quality you’re getting with veteran actors like Arterton and Close, so I was pleasantly surprised by how Nanua dominated the film with her presence.

The zombies in the film are fantastic and look, as far as I can tell, like they are played by real people in most of the scenes as opposed to CGI. They’re genuinely freaky, and director Colm McCarthy does a great job of utilising their characteristics to build suspense and deliver thrills. The set designs and visuals of the landscapes do remind me a lot of The Last of Us, so I do wonder if McCarthy has played the game and/or is a fan of it.

The main negatives about the film are some of the rules regarding how the zombies operate, which don’t appear to be consistent or logical all the time. There are also parts of the movie, particular in the beginning, that have that ugly greyish tone a lot of British movies have (and signifies boring), which is the main reason why it took me a little while to fully get into it.

In all, The Girl with All the Gifts still gets a big two thumbs up from me. Intelligent, scary, provocative and heartfelt, it’s everything I want from a Last of Us adaptation if they ever get around to it.

4 stars out of 5

Train to Busan (2016)

At some time during last year, everywhere I looked there were rave reviews about a South Korean zombie movie called Train to Busan. The poster looked relatively generic and the premise didn’t seem particularly original (zombies on a train), so I figured it must have been another overhyped Asian film bound to disappoint.

Holy shit was I wrong.

Train to Busan could be one of the best zombie movies of all time. I’m not just talking about Korean cinema or Asian cinema, but cinema in general. It certainly is one of the best I’ve seen, whether it is in terms of tension, excitement, scares, character development, and heart. South Koreans have already taken over the electronics industry with Samsung and the Asian music industry with Gangnam Style and those sultry girl groups where everyone looks exactly the same. Now they’ve shown that they’re a force to be reckoned with in film too.

Train to Busan shouldn’t have been this good. The story focuses around a divorced fund manager (Gong Yoo) who is catching a train from Seoul to Busan with his young daughter to see her mother. Naturally, a zombie outbreak erupts, and they find themselves trapped on a train with a bunch of different characters from all walks of life, including Sang-hwa, a barrel-chested working class man and his pregnant wife, elderly sisters,  homeless man, a bunch of kids from a high school baseball team, and a selfish businessman looking out only for himself. It sounds cliched, right?

Yet somehow, director Yeon Sang-ho manages to turn Train to Busan into a blistering thrill ride. The action is inventive and brutal — not entirely realistic but it’s admittedly stylish and cool to watch. The zombies are rabid and relentless, perhaps even more so than they are in World War Z. The train setting is great for creating a sense of claustrophobia and helplessness, but at the same time there is enough variety in the storytelling to not render the concept stale. It’s wave after wave of danger and difficult predicaments, and many situations where audiences will put themselves in the shoes of the characters.

Above all, the film makes you care for the characters. Some of them are indeed stereotypes, though there is sufficient believable interaction and development between them to create a connection with viewers. Themes such as family, social class, and sacrifice were handled extremely well. In the end, I was surprised how much a couple of sequences in the film impacted me from an emotional level. That alone makes Train to Busan the better train movie than 2013’s Snowpiercer.

Apart from a couple of scenes that were a little clumsy and CGI that’s not quite up to elite Hollywood standards (though generally good enough), there really isn’t much to complain about. From a purely entertainment perspective, Train to Busan is one of the highlights of the year — no matter what language you speak. Those who struggle to get into foreign-language films should definitely check it out.

4.5 stars out of 5

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

scouts guide

The title makes it sound stupid, but also potentially kinda fun. Scouts have been the butt of jokes for as long as I can remember, so I thought maybe Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalpyse might surprise with some silly laughs.

Rising star Tye Sheridan (soon to be in another Apocalpyse film, ie, as young Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse), Logan Miller and Joey Morgan are Ben, Carter and Augie, three high schoolers who grew up as scouts and are still part of a scout group. Naturally, there is a zombie outbreak, and these three resourceful young men are caught in the middle of it. The two main supporting characters are a strip bar waitress (Sarah Dumont) and their Scout Leader (the always welcome David Koechner). Teen starlet Halston Sage and Arnie’s son, Patrick, also have small roles.

The film is billed as a horror comedy, but there’s not much to be afraid of. All the blood and guts are comical and the tongue is always firmly in the cheek. The jokes, on the other hand, are nearly all juvenile, sophomoric gags, often related to stupidity or sex or random wackiness. It’s American Pie meets The Walking Dead.

In all honesty, I did laugh out loud a few times. If we’re talking the six-laugh test for a good comedy, I’m sure I came pretty close. There were a good deal of misses and occasions where I was like, “good try, but no,” though some of the hits turned out better than I expected.
The real problem with Scouts Guide is that it is awfully generic and doesn’t do much to take advantage of its intriguing premise. The fact that the three protagonists are scouts isn’t utilised nearly enough — take out a couple of gags and they really could have just been the guys from Superbad or any other teen flick. It’s almost as though they simply wanted to make a teen zombie comedy and threw in the scouts angle to try to distinguish itself from the market, rather than build the film around this premise.

As such, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse feels like the waste of a good opportunity. Most normal adult moviegoers will probably find it too moronic to even give it a try, but if you’re in the mood for some breezy silliness you could get a few laughs out of it. As far as zombie comedies go, it’s a far weaker effort than Leigh Whannell’s Cooties.

2.75 stars out of 5

Extinction (2015)

extinction-poster

I’m kinda surprised that the stars of Lost haven’t had as much success as I expected since that show came to its pitiful end. After Evangeline Lily, Matthew Fox is actually probably the second busiest Lost alum, but his films haven’t been very noteworthy thus far.

Throw Extinction, a post-apocalyptic zombie horror, to that list. Based on a Spanish novel, the film follows a typical arc — virus turns people into zombies — though its central focus is on the relationship between two dudes and one of their daughters.

Fox is one of those dudes, and the other is fellow TV star Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice. The film begins at a frantic pace with the two men on a bus. Something tragic happens in the intro and we flash forward to years later, when everything has changed.

A shocking development gets the plot moving  as two men together are forced to face the past while they fight for a future.

I make it sound pretty intriguing, though Extinction is in reality quite a slow and uneventful movie for the majority of its 110-minute running time — which is about 20 minutes too long.

There is not much action after the opening sequence until the extended climax at the end, and in between most of the tension stems from the relationship between the two male protagonists and a young girl. However, neither character is well-developed, and while more is revealed about their past, eventually there are still many lingering questions that are only vaguely resolved or not at all.

These factors culminate in an underwhelming experience. It felt like the premise and the dynamics had a lot of potential to become something special — or at least different — but the progression of the narrative turned out bland and the melodrama came across as hollow.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Maggie (2015)

Maggie-2015-poster

The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is back in the post-apocalyptic depressor, Maggie, about a young girl’s final days before turning into a zombie.

I heard a lot of mixed things about the movie before I finally had a chance to watch it, and I think much of it is misleading. For starters, I don’t think much of Arnie’s performance, which has been hailed as the best of his career — like that’s saying much. It doesn’t even feel like he’s in it all that much, as the story focuses more on the eponymous protagonist (played by Abigail Breslin). Yeah he’s fine in the role and probably showed a wider range of emotions than usual, but I actually think a large handful of other actors could have done it better. Am I crazy for thinking that the film is better at demonstrating Arnie’s limitations rather than shattering them?

Secondly, I don’t think the film feels like it has ripped off the bestselling PS3 game The Last of Us, as several people have pointed out. I should know, because I just played it twice and think it’s the best video game of all time. Sure, there’s the zombie angle and the father-daughter-ish relationship, but apart from that there’s not a lot of similarities.

So what is Maggie really like? Slow and really depressing. It starts with Arnie finding Maggie, who has been bitten and has been given several weeks before she finally loses herself and becomes a flesh-eating zombie. The problem is treated as a “virus”, and as such the infected are allowed to return home until they reach a certain point, when they will have to be forcibly moved to quarantine.

The rest of the film requires you to sit through Maggie’s agonising transformation and constant reminders of what she’ll eventually become and the terrible decision Arnie will have to make. It’s an interesting idea, because typically in zombie movies people don’t get a lot of time before they turn.

In many ways, Maggie is not all that different to a story about a young patient having to deal with a life-ending disease like cancer, though I suppose the zombie idea puts a slightly different spin on things. But does it really conjure up enough different emotions to justify it as a plot device? I’ll say yes, but only barely.

My main gripe about the film is that it’s just not a very enjoyable experience, and it doesn’t make up for it in other ways. As if the premise is not bleak enough already, the visuals are very grey and very dark all the way through. The pace is also deliberately slow, without a lot of ups and downs, making the 95-minute running time feel uncomfortably long. Moreover, there is a sense of inevitability considering there’s really only one way things can end. It’s not a film that gives itself a lot of room to maneuvre.

For a zombie movie there’s not much zombie action, with most of the scenes of the undead aimed at generating sympathy as opposed to fear. It’s a horror film where the horror comes from the depressing knowledge of what Maggie will become. Some of it is scary, but it’s more sad than anything.

The drama, the clear focus of the movie, is solid thanks to the strong performance of Breslin and Arnie doing the best he can. While it is effective at making you feel upset, there was never a time when I felt overwhelmed by emotion, perhaps because there weren’t any emotions I wasn’t expecting. Maybe if there was a bit of hope — even false hope — I would have found it more meaningful, and accordingly, more powerful.

Having made Maggie sound a lot worse than it actually is, I will admit that I found it to be an interesting premise with a few nice moments of reflection on the pointlessness of fighting a disease that will rob you of your dignity and who you are before the bitter end. There was one excellent scene in which Maggie attends a bonfire party where her friends — including an infected boy — and they discuss the difficult options faced by the infected and those caring for them. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough of these moments to take advantage of the premise and make Maggie the type of well-rounded, rewarding experience it could have been.

3 stars out of 5