- Released Internationally on 19/06/13
- Released in Malta by KRS on 26/06/13
Watching Malta succumb to a zombie epidemic should be fun, which probably means that this film will be a local box-office hit, whatever the international outcome is. You might recall that, quite a while ago, Brad Pitt was in town, accompanied by the lovely Angelina and their personal child care centre. The result was extensive and ambitious scenes of zombie warfare shot in various parts of Valletta, Floriana, and even the Malta International Airport, amongst others. Shooting then moved to Glasgow, so it remains to be seen who does the best undead impression.
Despite the scale and international appeal of the project, as well as the star at the helm, alarm bells started ringing when extensive reshoots and alterations were announced - something that usually indicates that the film is going to be a bit of a mess. The first trailers didn’t do too much to dispel those worries, with the admittedly impressive footage being a bit too chaotic, and not exactly the best special effects we’ve ever seen.
Hopefully, however, the extensive post-production period has allowed for things to be polished and refined, and we’ll get the epic apocalyptic disaster movie that summer audiences deserve. Zombies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but when you might recognise one of them as Uncle Tony or Aunty Phyllis, I think it’s worth plucking up the courage and heading to the cinema.
3-word review: Zombies, but serious.
It’s tricky making a zombie film. No matter how much gravitas you pour in, and how big and respected a star you land as your main guy, it’s hard to shake of decades of zombie film reputation and reactions. The reason is quite simple - zombies tend to be a perfect mix of looking terrifying and looking ridiculous. We all know how to walk like one, and if you add a blank stare and outstretched hands - voila! - instant zombie party. Which is why the more successful zombie films in the past have either dialled-up the horror to the point of making it a guilty pleasure gore-fest, or else added generous amounts of humour. In recent years, two good examples of this were Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. The former toned down the gore but had some of the best humour of the decade, and ended up being a joy to watch. The latter took the gore to new extremes, but still managed to coat it all in wonderful, self-aware, dry humour, including an inspired opening monologue that sets the quirky tone splendidly.
Here, however, nobody smiles. There is nothing remotely funny or amusing about the whole film, and it very clearly aims for the ‘tragic, heartfelt, disaster movie’ genre, but replacing the usual recipes of aliens, outbreaks or asteroids with zombies. It very nearly manages in that regard, and the worldwide scope is palpable, and befitting of the film’s title. But inevitably, you can expect to hear occasional guffaws from the audience, because zombies still look ridiculous, or at least they can do when they’re not running after you or biting your leg. Possibly because of this, the Z-word isn’t heard until a good half-hour into the film, and great care is taken not to portray them in any amusing way.
The paranoia sets in very effectively during the opening titles, with the overused-but-still-very-effective method of using newsflashes. Once Piers Morgan appears, you can tell things are going to get really unpleasant. And sure enough, we cut quickly to the chase, with widespread chaos having set in barely minutes into the film. As is necessary in any such film with an emotional core, we zoom into the main character’s family briefly, but we’re shown enough to make them a key motivation throughout the rest of the film. Normal life is shattered, as within moments ordinary citizens are on the run without their car, without their wallet and without their asthma inhaler.
But then we zoom back out and take in just how bad things are getting. The international scope of the film is well-maintained throughout, with the global fight against the zombie epidemic playing out like some huge competition - some countries are winning, some cities have fallen, some nations have ‘gone dark’. The powers that be are suitably international, with the UN and the WHO being the main players here, and Brad Pitt’s character as their man in the field.
Ideas that work
The urgent search for a cure plays out well, with hints dropped along the way and eventually coalescing into a feasible solution, although the film doesn’t hang around long enough for practical loopholes and problems to be given much thought. The whole zombie phenomenon is also given a few interesting twists not often seen is such films - such as their being drawn to noise, and their being aggravated by the killing of fellow zombies. These minor points help to add tension and drama at a few key points in the film. The other main factor that drives this film forward is how the plot delivers us into seemingly safe locations - sheltered homes, aircraft carriers, planes, countryside - before ruthlessly yanking them away from us, thus driving home the message that “movement is life”. Thankfully, amidst all the wanton destruction and killing, there are also a handful of moments to remind us about the true value of each individual life, especially in the case of a female Israeli soldier who ends up being one of the more interesting characters in the film.
Malta and more
On a purely Maltese level, the film is also highly recommended from a sightseeing point of view, as Malta doubles for Jerusalem in the middle section of the film. There’s lots of Valletta on display, as well as our airport being overrun during an aerial escape sequence. Once the plane manages to leave, it allegedly marks the point where the film’s direction was altered after the first draft was made, resulting in extensive reshoots, a few new early scenes, and an entirely different third act. The last bit, set in a claustrophobic WHO facility in Cardiff, does in fact seem very different from the rest of the film - in tone, in pace and even visually. But it manages to deliver some of the more tense scenes of the film, on a minimal budget, and manages to give this film a satisfying conclusion whilst leaving the options open for the inevitable sequel.