Sunday 24 October 2010

Zombie Team Building (2010)

Director: Nathan Blackwell
Stars: Shay Alber, Logan Blackwell, Craig Curtis, James Hoenscheidt, Grace Steinbach, Eileen Steinbach and Gabrielle Van Buren
This film was an official selection at the 6th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Tempe in 2010. Here's an index to my reviews of 2010 films.
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon IV in Tempe in 2011. Here's an index to my reviews of 2011 films.
Zombies are fast becoming the universal prop to build any sort of story around and here's yet another zombie short that raised a laugh and a thought at the same time; though to be honest, much more of a laugh than a thought. The concept is simple and enticing: after an outbreak of the living dead in 2004 was contained to a five block area, the building at the centre became a training ground, a corporate team building retreat. What could draw employees together better as a team than having to face off against a horde of zombies for their very survival? Well, that's where we begin, with a team shooting down zombies as fast as they can. This is day seven and we follow the five people left alive back inside to find out how well they've done, which as you can imagine is not too well. Then again, what's to say the fourteen dead weren't set up? What a great way to get away with murder: just don't save the team slacker from zombies.

Inside the building is James, the team's instructor, who serves as the foundation of the film, with his collection of buzzwords and a joyous disconnect from reality. 'Who can tell me what we've learned today?' he asks with the list of attributes he cares about on the board behind him. They include things like 'co-opetition' so he's hardly the sharpest tool in the shed, but he's secure in the knowledge that he's imparting knowledge as per the manual. James Hoenscheidt totally nails the part, safe inside his comfort zone ignoring the uncomfortable reality that surrounds him as he only has to teach, not to do. Anyone who has ever had to deal with corporate team building understands what a complete waste of space people like this are, yet they're often given carte blanche in their efforts. This story is stupid but it's so true to life it's uncanny, right down to team leader Craig subconsciously mirroring James's hand actions like a translator for the deaf.
I particularly liked the detail that's almost hidden in the film. If you watch on vimeo and pause on the Leadership Guide, you'll find all sorts of realistic insanity, from guidelines like, 'Don't dwell on murdered team members: 'WE survived, so we're the BEST!'' to acronyms like BOSS (Building Our Synergistic Strength) and CEO (Cameraderie through Extreme Ordeal). This is admirable, as the film was shot for the Almost Famous 48 hour film challenge, at which it won for best comedy. 48 hours isn't a long time to make a film, let alone one with such detail, but it did benefit from use of a single location, an office building that was scheduled to be renovated, thus allowing the cast and crew to whale the crap out of it. Such film challenges focus on detail but only in a list of requirements: this one had to be based around a white lie, use of a mirror as a prop and include 'What just happened?' as a line of dialogue. All three are superbly integrated into the script.

There was a fourth requirement, that the film be under five minutes in length, but while director Nathan Blackwell met that requirement for the challenge, he also shot with the aim of creating a ten minute version for future use and that's the version that was shown at IHSFF and elsewhere. Perhaps his confidence came from the fact that much of his cast and crew had already met this sort of challenge a year earlier with another short called Masters of Daring, but he feels the story is strong enough to expand to feature length, beginning on day three with a larger cast and with more 'ridiculous teamwork exercises'. If he can maintain comedy as joyous as this over a feature length, he'll be right. Actors like Hoenscheidt, Craig Curtis and Gabrielle Van Buren are easily up to the task, just so long as they don't make value prohibitive choices which counter the group dynamic and prompt them to go stand in the shame corner. I so need one of those at work.

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