Monday, March 19, 2012

ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

I like to think that I give every movie I watch a fair shake. And when it comes to the movies produced by the low-budget flick factory known as The Asylum, I like to think I'm fairer than most reviewers. Yes, a great many of their productions are pretty bad - by any objective standard - but more than a few of their movies are genuinely entertaining, and every once in a while the company manages to produce something of genuine creative merit. Case in point: ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (2011 - the DVD package employs the Asylum's marketing strategy of beginning their titles with a number, in this case, 2012 ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE - but on the movie itself the year is not part of the title).

The plot is basic zombie flick stuff: the world has suffered a catastrophic event which has destroyed civilization as we know it and left the planet overrun with flesh-eating, mindless animated corpses. A small group of  diverse characters travel cross-country to Los Angeles, where they believe they'll be able to catch a boat to a zombie-free sanctuary on Catalina Island. All the way, they fight to survive attacks from rampaging hordes of living dead and other post-Apocalyptic perils.

Effectively directed by Nick Lyon from a much-better-than-average screenplay by Brooks Peck and Craig Engler, ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE may be the best horror film yet produced by The Asylum. I say "may" because even I haven't seen all of the more than 100 flicks the microbudget moviemakers have cranked out in their short existence. But I can say that APOCALYPSE has the best-written script I've encountered yet in an Asylum production, which may lack originality (borrowing, as it does, from the classic George Romero films, TV's THE WALKING DEAD, and others) but makes up for any such creative deficit with well-drawn characters, fairly naturalistic dialogue, and a simple, straight-forward narrative that never goes off-track.

Production values are pretty good, with some well-chosen, appropriately rundown locations and mostly-decent zombie make-ups (though some of the background zombs look like they were outfitted from a Halloween party store). The extensive use of CGI gore is a disappointment, however. I understand the economics of using CGI over practical effects (even Romero now goes down that path with his recent efforts), but the cartoon sprays of blood, decapitations, dismemberments, etc. just lack the visceral impact that good, Old School corn-syrup blood and latex make-up effects used to provide to these films.

The cast, led by Ving Rhames (PULP FICTION, OPERATION: ENDGAME) and Taryn Manning (SONS OF ANARCHY) is also much better than average for such a low-budget production, imbuing their characters with considerable emotional weight and humanity. I was especially taken by Lilan Bowden as one of the "archers."

The Asylum brings ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE to DVD (and Blu-ray, but I don't have that edition) in their usual fine manner, with a pristine, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and both 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround audio options. In addition, there's the expected "Making Of" featurette, gag reel, and slew of trailers for other current and recent Asylum titles.

So, is ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE a great movie? No. But it is a decent entry in the genre, and much better than most of its direct-to-video competitors. It is a fun, zombie-filled 90 minutes that won't (for a change) make you feel dumber for having sat through it. The cast is solid, the action is good, and the overall experience is surprisingly entertaining.

Recommended.

BUY2012 Zombie Apocalypse