Writers: B Harrison Smith and David Agnew Penn
Stars: Billy Zane, Dee Wallace, Mischa Barton, Felissa Rose and Gabrielle Stone
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I couldn’t watch it for a while because it hadn’t been released yet, but it did look like an interesting pick, as it was directed and co-written by Harrison Smith, who started out writing interesting indie movies that I’d previously reviewed here at Apocalypse Later: The Fields, starring the intriguing combination of Cloris Leachman and Tara Reid, and 6 Degrees of Hell, in which Corey Feldman attempts to convince us he’s a tough guy, even with an emo fringe and an electronic cigarette. He started to direct his own scripts with Camp Dread, placing Eric Roberts, Danielle Harris and the slasher genre into a reality show format. None of these films were what they could have been, but the two I’ve seen showed promise and imagination. I found that this one fits alongside those well, not because it’s similar in content or style but because it’s another interesting film that wants to be a great one, if only it can figure out how. Sadly it can’t, but it’s a step closer than those earlier pictures and there’s great possibility in Smith’s future.
What we have is Elwood and its people and that young militia is only one component part of it. We leave town only once, otherwise only venturing out a little on occasion beyond the tall fence the townsfolk have constructed to keep the zombies out. Inside we’re given the impression of many people, though we really only see three factions. One are the Zombie Killers of the title, a ragtag band of ‘orphans and misfits’ who have been drafted and taught by Seiler, a military sergeant played by Billy Zane. They are the ones who venture outside of town to track down supplies, for which everyone else puts in orders, from chapstick to ammunition. Another is the ‘cult compound’ of Lia, a psycho nutjob religious chick in the capable form of Felissa Rose. Even in a closed off rural town, she still goes door to door trying to convert those she thinks are in need of the Lord. The third is led by Doc, played by Brian Anthony Wilson, whose narration begins the film. He’s the nominal leader of town, apparently a good man merely in charge of sadistic thugs.
By comparison, Dee Wallace gets a very odd role. She’s Sharon, the mother of one of Sgt Seiler’s Zombie Killers, Ian Sommers, but she’s bedridden for the entire movie as a character dying of cancer. Beyond Ian, her screen son, she only gets to interact with one other character, Nikki Slater, Ian’s screen girlfriend and her real life daughter, Gabrielle Stone. Nikki is Doc’s nurse, so we wonder if we’re going to see crossovers between these factions but that doesn’t ever evolve. Sharon is there to tie Ian to Elwood and to gift Dee Wallace with an opportunity to really act with her daughter. The two have shared credits before, in three features, Fuzz Track City, Beyond and The Jazz Funeral, plus a few shorts, but I wonder if any of them had opportunities like this one. Sharon, who knows that she’s dying and that cancer may take her before the zombies take the town, talks to Nikki as the girl her son loves, the young lady she remembers in herself and the personification to her of the town she lives in. It’s a very touching and meaningful scene.
One that both beguiles and disappoints is the zombie deer stampede, which I have to say I’ve never seen before, but its originality is let down by the poor CGI and the repetition as they run past. The greenscreen work and the CGI is not great here, but then it’s not really a greenscreen/CGI kind of movie so I can give it a pass on that. I’m less forgiving about how many questions end up unanswered. I don’t mean the source of the zombies, which is theorised on half-heartedly but never figured out conclusively, because it isn’t of special interest and wouldn’t have been of any at all had the script not decided to conjure up intriguingly imaginative ideas and then mostly forget about them. I’m talking about the internal stuff. I get that Doc is treating the town like he would a terminal patient, but that doesn’t explain everything he does and there are questions left hanging at the end. I like how he plays God for real, making Elwood occasionally feel a little like Jonestown, with Lia the religious nut just a red herring on that front.
If I appreciated most the originality of this screenplay and the neat avoidance of most clichés associated with the horror and zombie genres, those unanswered questions were the most annoying counter. I liked the camerawork, which never does anything particularly flash but keeps the frame alive throughout, like a drummer who just sits there, keeping the beat but never trying to play lead. The worst acting is decent, though a few of the newer actors occasionally could have done with extra takes. The best is superb, with Zane, Wilson and Rose all spot on throughout, even when playing notably against type in a welcome and appreciated way. The other name actor, Mischa Barton, also gets an interesting role, though it’s not given all the opportunities that it could have been. And Wallace is superb in a role unlike any that I’ve seen her in, able to act and emote as if her typecasting restraints had been unshackled. Her daughter isn’t yet up to her standard but she has promise. And surely their scene together is why she picked this movie.