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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Velvet Road (2011)

Director: L Gustavo Cooper
Stars: Thomas R Martin, Heather Ricks, Walter Colson and Stephen Ezell
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon V in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my festival reviews.
Velvet Road oozes class even as the opening credits unfold. With the same muted colour palette as The Walking Dead, not to mention the same subject matter, it's difficult to avoid comparison. As the film runs on and we both enjoy the Jacksonville countryside and realise how grounded the story is in the human element, we can't help but see it as cut from the same cloth. Of course, at only 14 minutes, it's a brief slice rather than a grand sweep, but it resonates nonetheless, subtly providing a time and place without ever hammering the point home. As Brian Jerin's theme adds sinister piano undertones to soaring strings, the radio tells us that a disease is spreading across the deep south, inevitably suggesting a source in the negro population. I've seen a lot of zombie movies over the last few years, many metaphorically substituting zombies for this demographic or that, but this may be the most telling example I've seen yet. It proves the well still isn't dry.

The story is solid and very carefully crafted, but it jumps back and forth between an evening and the following morning enough that it took me a couple of viewings to fully put the various jigsaw pieces together to get the whole picture, even though there are only four characters. There's a mechanic called Bobby, fleeing the zombie apocalypse with his pregnant wife Carolyne, who has obviously been bitten. There's a black man walking the other way, who Bobby sees on the road and again the next day, handcuffed to the door in the back of a police car. At that point, he's in search of his wife, who bit him while driving and caused him to crash, literally and figuratively, until the morning, when he crawls out of the wreckage and follows the blood trail. Finally, there's the cop, bloody himself and slumped in the front seat, waiting to turn. It won't be too surprising to find out how everyone interacts, but it's done stylishly, carefully and with strong impact.
This is one of those films that really need a couple of viewings to be fully appreciated. Initially it was a little confusing and I wondered why it leapt back and forth so much, until I realised that we were understanding these events from the perspective of someone who was bitten early in the story and was turning into a zombie himself. Of course he's confused, but he figures it out, just as we do, enough to realise how carefully the gun is pointed in the best shot of the film. We also realise how lean this piece is. Some filmmakers would spin this story out to feature length, but L Gustavo Cooper, who directed and co-wrote, trimmed the fat away, so he and editor Bill Gaggins could keep it under a quarter of an hour, including both opening and closing credits. They'd have found it tough to go any further without causing damage, but it does everything it needs to, with a wide story and a number of smaller ones, all within a social framework and told with panache.

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