Zombie movies this year aren’t doing so well. We were just handed the sub-par Romero career-resuscitation attempt Land of the Dead, and now the painfully pedestrian Australian indie, Undead. Zombie fans don’t jump out of your chairs for this one. Yes it has an incredibly cool poster featuring chick-wearing-a-gasmask-holding-shotgun, but if the film were a quarter as intriguing as this representational image, it would be an improvement.
At this point we all know the rules in a zombie film, right? This time the culprit turns out to be meteorites, which for some reason descend onto the sleepy Australian fishing community of Berkeley. Anyone the meteorites touch is instantly altered to a state of undead-ness and, of course, begins noshing for bloody human organ-snacks.
Our protagonist is local beauty queen Rene (Felicity Mason), recently awarded with the vaunted title “Ms. Catch-of-the-Day” by the locals. After learning she’s just lost the family farm to the bank, she attempts to leave town to recollect her thoughts, only to find the roads blocked by hungry, hungry zombies. She holes up in the local crackpot’s farmhouse, along with the usual cadre of obnoxious survivor/caricatures, including the crazy law enforcement guy, the useless male, and the pregnant woman. Together they try to leave town, only to discover a huge, extraterrestrial wall blocking all the roads, some weird acid rain, and a lot of alien abductions going on. What does all this have to do with the zombie invasion? You’ll be hard-pressed to understand that or anything else in this sad excuse for a comedic zombie flick.
It gets worse. Composer Cliff Bradley’s horrible synthesizer score was very distracting, and I kept having flashbacks to the cheesy space-age stylings of the 80’s “Gumby” television series. Not helping are the many, many ambitious special f/x shots that resemble yesterday’s Photoshop leftovers. Add in some lethargic editing, ridiculous characters, and neo-Troma plotline, and what you have is either an uninspiring heap of guano or a “cult classic” whose true time will come in twenty years or so at a series of midnight screenings, populated by the next generation’s form of bespectacled geek. Either way, I’d rather watch Shaun of the Dead again.
The main problem is twin filmmakers Michael & Peter Spierig never decide what their film is, zombie-parody or zombie-serious. Now, of course some films are relegated to be so bad, they’re awesome. All Monty Python needed was some coconuts, some jokes, some squirting blood, and a room full of teenage spank-worthy virgins, and they created a classic for all time called Monty Python and the Holy Grail – the ultimate high school backyard home movie. That’s not Undead. Undead feels as if the Spierigs were trying too hard in all the wrong places. Their script is certainly ridiculous, but not nearly funny enough for this to be seen as purely a camp piece, and not scary or topical enough to be considered another zombie classic.
It’s clear the filmmakers were inspired by Sam Raimi’s low-budgeted mastery of the horror-comedy genre, but homage with good intentions, no matter how many zombie fish you throw in, does not a good movie make. From Undead, I get the feeling from their ambition alone the Spierigs have one or two pretty good films in them. Perhaps with a larger budget and more attention to character, it’ll happen. Until then, Undead feels like a festival-circuit film that never should’ve made it to the big screen.
Reviewed By: Jonathan Moy