Sunday 5 September 2010

Colin (2008)

Director: Marc Price
Stars: Alastair Kirton, Daisy Aitkens, Kate Alderman, Tat Whalley and Leane Pammen

Remember when El Mariachi was lauded by all and sundry because Robert Rodriguez made it for a mere $7,000? Critic Joe Queenan even wrote a book about how he made his own movie for $6,998 just to outdo him. Of course El Mariachi was boosted up after the fact by a lot of post production on Columbia's dime after they bought the distribution rights. Of course Queenan's movie sucked, so badly that he has never released Twelve Steps to Death and we can only enjoy the screenplay that's available in his book about his experiences making it. Nowadays everyone seems to have access to equipment that allows them to make a movie and the only question left is how good it's going to be. Many microbudget films suck, pure and simple; many more are inherently hindered by their lack of budget, however much fun they are. Colin, which was a surprise hit at Cannes in 2009, can only dream about $7,000. British filmmaker Marc Price made it for £45. That's about $70.

There are some justifications for this nigh on insane claim, but there are numbers that are a little more believable than others and $70 for a feature length movie is on the wrong side of that line. Apparently he shot it on a Panasonic mini-DV camcorder that he already owned, and which at ten years old was an industry antique. He cast it with amateur actors who answered casting calls on Facebook and MySpace and were willing to work for free and bring their own make-up. He edited it on his home PC with a copy of Adobe Premiere from school. It looks cheap, that's for sure, most obviously with the often dim lighting and the handheld scenes of action where it's often difficult to track what's going on. $70 is so slight that it doesn't allow for a lot of batteries, let alone bus fare to get to locations. Price said that it paid for 'a crowbar and a couple of tapes', plus 'some tea and coffee as well: not the expensive stuff either, the very basic kind. Just to keep the zombies happy.'

What makes this zombie movie special is that it's effectively told from the perspective of a zombie. While it initially seems that Colin has survived a zombie attack at the beginning of the film, he's soon bitten for sure and his life (or undeath) as a zombie begins the next morning as he falls out of his window and is reintroduced to the world. He stumbles around as if he's retarded, staying alive through luck rather than judgement. We watch him learn how to move, then how to find food and how to keep it. We see him connect to a slight degree with memories of his former life, like road signs, Duplo blocks and earphones, but when his sister saves him from a couple of muggers who are more after his trainers than his existence, he fails to recognise who she is. Her looks round the corner as he shambles away are touching. There's much to admire here beyond the initial concept which suddenly seems so obvious that it's surprising George Romero hadn't already made it.
In particular the film looks good, entirely ignoring the budget and the technical limitations that it imposes. I'm talking about the composition of frame, the camera motion and the angles that the film is shot from. The folks who pointed the camera came up with all sorts of intriguing places to point it from: inside basements of houses Colin passes by, shot through grates; from the other side of doors; and at one point even from inside a TV set as Colin tries to figure out what all the static is. After his sister Linda effectively kidnaps him and takes him back to their parents' house to see if it will trigger memories and perhaps bring him out of the state he's found himself in, we watch a lot of scenes through windows. We watch him scramble at the glass as his family bicker outside about a plan of action. We watch Linda look in at him in despair as she realises nothing is going to change. We watch his mother sadly paste up newspaper to hide the pair of them inside.

The house siege is an exercise in inevitability and it runs too long, like the most demented rave of all time. A large number of zombies overwhelm a few people in a confined space and there's no way it would ever have ended any differently. Later the opposite happens: as Colin finds himself in a crowd of zombies, a large number of humans arrive aiming to take them down. There's a great shot of a stick of dynamite rolled in underneath them and the ensuing chaos is believably chaotic. While most of them launch in like it's a riot, their very calm but notably scary leader takes out the eyes of zombies with a slingshot or a hammer. It gets truly brutal when the survivors are tasked with killing those of their number that were bitten, bludgeoning them to death, because while there's an omnipresent background noise of gunshots that pervades the film like static, this death squad don't have any guns.

It's impossible not to witness the power behind this film, which gives us a sympathetic hero in the form of a zombie. Alastair Kirton's performance is a powerful one and is really less comparable to other zombie roles and more to portrayals of the mentally ill or seriously disabled. It's far easier to roam around with blood on your face and moan a lot than it is to find a way to do it with sympathy. The ending, with its flashbacks to events that took place just before the film began, is a powerful one and I don't remember a scene in a zombie movie quite that touching. By this time we're no longer focusing on the $70 budget gimmick and we're engrossed in Colin's story, the theme by Dan Weekes and the excellent sound helping no end. While the visuals certainly need work, the sound is solid throughout, not just in what we hear but in what we don't hear. The most touching scene is entirely silent. For $70, this is amazing, but it's pretty damn good whatever the budget.

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