2008 TV series, made in England and exported to the USA via Netflix. Done by the man who went on to create Black Mirror.

As a review, this will be very spoiler heavy.

 


 

Just when you thought there really wasn't more you could get out of the zombie genre - too many jokey movies like The Coed and the Zombie Stoner and Zombie Rednecks banging cheek to jowl with moody, Bjork video with the Swans giving the soundtrack foreign film in which there are zombies but you never see one and it's all about isolation in a very rural Scandinavian house between a 10 year old autist and her 72 year old bipolar grandfather with a secret from The War...

Along comes a clever littls series that breathes a bit more life into what's rapidly becoming an undead genre.

Any zombie film is really about humanity. It usually is macro-set-up to talk about a specific beef with humanity, for example Dawn of the Dead was about rampant consumerism. With a macro-setup, there's also micro-tensions and personal dynamics in play - any good scriptwriter explores the real meat of the story, which is how the characters in the piece react to the crisis.

With a good zombie movie - It's always a play in three acts. There's the sometimes seen, sometimes unseen life-is-normal, hey, are you okay sir moment when someone eating someone else turns on the group and kills the first of their number. The group, and by extension the audience, learns the rules of the new zombie world. The second act is the detente in which our survivors are in some kind of secure digs and are enjoying a rest and respite, and the character development takes place. Act Three is when things go completely to ratshit.

Everyone dies, no final girl, nowhere to go. If there's one survivor, there's clearly no happy ever after. Some movies play with this a little bit: Shaun of the Dead has the cavalry save the day and finally we humans get a slave race we can feel totally unguilty about exploiting in terms of low-skill labor.

The McGuffin for this series is that England's (real, the hostess of the actual show has a cameo) reality show, Big Brother, is having its latest season and its Eviction Night. Hundreds have turned up with signs and placards to vote for who they want gone, and while the production crew have their hectic schedule on one side of a wall and the nervous contestants are in their own bubble, the Zombie Apocalypse starts and they miss out on the first few hours of it. 

This provides three fascinating plot points: firstly, a reason as to why our heroes escaped the initial attack wave that destroyed society. Literally locked away inside a bubble with food and shelter, they were only ever made aware of the seriousness of the situation by a literal lack of direction from disembodied voices, and the fact that the cameras had stopped moving.

The second is a rich interplay of interpersonal dynamics. These aren't random people who meet, showered with blood, inside a convenience store making their initial introductions, they're people who've been passive aggressively playing against each other for weeks, in terms of "survival". It also means that there's a frightening disconnect between who they think they are and who they are, and how they think they're perceived, and actually are. And once the facade disappears, the ugly cracks become evident.

The third is that the whole situation provides ample fodder for commentary on the utter stupidity of reality show culture.  

The show starts with it being eviction night. The producer, Patrick, a handlebar-moustached Hitler of a man chain-chewing Nicorette gum and ordering interns around, is furious that one of the interns is extremely late with the mother of the to-be evicted Scottish airhead "Pippa" for the touching "friends and family moment". The intern complains that the roads are packed for some reason. Things get worse when the driver stops to investigate a crashed car, and is attacked by the woman chewing on the newly dead occupant of the vehicle. They decide that since for some reason their phones no longer work and they cannot GPS to a nearby hospital - where they're going has medical staff, best to floor it and get the driver, now spewing blood furiously from a hole in his neck, to the production facility. He dies enroute. He comes back to life as they're driving 65mph on back roads to the studio, crashing just shy of the entrance. A security guard investigates and opens the gates to the facility to do so. He never lives long enough to reclose them.

Which means that the three join a few more dozen zombies who decide to attack the gathered crowd holding placards as to who they support and who they want voted off. Mayhem ensues, and most of the production crew are torn to pieces or bitten enough to turn. The producer and Pippa hole up in an office, and Kelly, the protagonist of the piece, fends off her turned affair and holes up in a production room. 

Meanwhile the remaining contestants, including flamboyantly gay Grayson, chavvy Marky, and the older and unattractive (male) Joplin, heavyset Angel and others are curous as to why they haven't been woken up from the previous night's boozy post-eviction celebration by alarms and/or other aspects of production. Truth be told, the last half of the show was pre-empted by a "Stand by" message, as technical problems (and mass staff death) resulted in them going dark. 

When Kelly bursts her way in to the house, which by definition is a locked, self-contained bubble - they assume it's a prank. She's covered in blood threatening to stab anyone who opens another door, as she is aware that there's a zombie in the "runner" (a galley surrounding the house itself for camera folk). The zombies are not of the slow, shambling type but the fast-moving "infected" type, and she's scared to death. Marky doesn't believe her and opens it to mock her, playing for the now dead cameras - thinking it's all a gag by the producers. The zombie enters, bites Angel, and Kelly pulps its head to pieces with a fire extinguisher. This is played for the sickening reality that it is - with it being a world-stopper for the assembled, unable to process the sight of a terrified woman smashing a man's head into shards of skull and grey pulp. It's ultraviolence, but artistically and plot-justified. 

They have to deal with ths sudden shock that life as they knew it ended while they were obliviously partying, they're under very real threat, Angel has been infected with a bite that will kill her shortly, and so forth. Veronica, the busty blonde contestant, is more shocked and disappointed that they're no longer on TV and no longer the center of attention.

Meanwhile Kelly's boyfriend Riq, who was mugged for his van when he stopped to help a family, has seen his life go bad to worse. There's no trains home - for some reason they've all stopped running -  and he can't really walk back home because of how isolated he was when he was mugged, and there's no phone service. He hides from a zombie who tries to attack him in a shop, and is almost shot by a fellow female survivor who shows up to loot the place for supplies. Driving on together, their stolen SUV breaks down. He tries to fix it but cannot, and they are attacked by zombies in the dark. They make it to a nearby farmhouse, and regroup. While there he sees a now-live feed of the Big Brother house and realizes Kelly is still alive. Alex, the female survivor who dragged him along - is devastated when he decided he needs to return to the studio to patch up their relationship. She grudingly leaves the farmhouse with him.

Grayson is a nurse, and does what he can for Angel, but he's short of supplies. They decide to distract the zombies at the gate and make their way to the nearby supermarket, which has a pharmacy and therefore supplies and drugs. As they do so they're accosted by police who at first threaten to shoot one of them for "looting", and then jokes that given the circumstances, they understand. They are starstruck at the fact that they've just cornered some of the Big Brother contestants long enough to be caught off guard when zombies attack and one cop shoots the other when he sustains a bite. Mistaking a wound on one of the survivors for a bite he goes to shoot him as well, but Kelly shoots him first, and the policeman is therefore defenseless when more zombies arrive. This does, however furnish the party with guns as well as drugs and food as they barely make it to the van and back towards the studio.

Meanwhile against all sane advice Grayson has untied Angel. She dies and turns and kills Grayson immediately. This means that both of them are zombies and standing in the path of the survivors returning. Veronica pleads with Joplin to wrap Grayson in a tarp as he attacks so she can stab him in the head, or run the same plan with her holding Grayson down as Joplin stabs him. Joplin is extremely meek and wants no part of it until he's pretty much forced to. Grayson dies, and Angel, having fallen into a pool, cannot figure out how to extricate herself. The survivors return and kill her.

Meanwhile Riq and Alex have decided to head back to the studio via the waterways, having found a motorized boat that can navigate the river that the country house is on. Alex leaves the boat to operate a lock and is attacked and bitten. Having lost the man she'd kind of bonded with in the last 48 hours and hoped to start a life with, she has nothing to live for and simply drops to her knees so Riq can behead her. Her last bitter words are, "I liked our farmhouse." Riq makes it to shore and is attacked almost immediately, having to abandon the boat (which floats away) and his supplies, fleeing for his very life and almost being shot by the survivors in the studio, who've been clearing the immediate area inside the studio area with the rifle one of the policemen were carrying.

Joplin carries a torch for Veronica, who dismisses him trying to peek at her naked with the observation that given it was the end of the world if he'd simply been man enough to ask her to flash him she'd have been willing simply out of pity. When Patrick and Pippa fight their way into the house, having used a standing lamp as a spear to dispatch the zombie guarding the door - Patrick immediately takes charge and demands that they leave by boat or by van. They disagree, because there's nowhere to go. They've seen what's outside, and it's worse than here. He points out that there's a broadcast in "foreign" (French) which means other countries are fine, but the (untranslated) broadcast is clearly along the lines of "take shelter. Barricade your doors. Do not come in contact with the dead or anyone bitten by them".

When him berating them like he berated interns didn't work, he threatens to simply force his way past them and go through the gates, which would mean the whole complex would be overrun by the hordes outside and it would be a certain death sentence for everyone else. They knock him out and consider killing him.

Meanwhile Joplin goes to use the bathroom they've tied Patrick up in. Realizing they're going to kill him or cripple him (simply because he's observed them enough), Patrick pleads with Joplin to let him go and come with him rather than stay here. He points out that his nickname outside the house, in the press and the high street is "Gollum", he is exceedingly unpopular in the press and he's been hearing the other housemates badmouth him behind his back for weeks. Veronica's dismissive insult is still fresh in his mind when he sneaks back up on the group, who in their conversation confirms everything Patrick has been saying, including their dislike for Joplin.

The group is surprised twice: by Patrick being free and then with Kelly being taken hostage at gunpoint. Joplin and Patrick are leaving with the van, and whatever happens to the rest of them is none of their affair. Riq tries some heroics and is shot dead. In the confusion Joplin takes the van to the gate, and Patrick suddenly realizes that the group were right all along - the masses of zombies at the gate mean it would be a literal suicide to try and leave, with nowhere to go. While Patrick pleads with Joplin to stop, even as Kelly empties her gun at him and misses with every try he's never realized that Joplin's interest in playing along had nothing to do with actually escaping.

The gates are opened, Joplin doesn't even resist being immediately devoured. The rest run for it, but only a bitten Space and a trapped Kelly make it out alive, albeit in hopeless situations: they're both completely surrounded. Kelly wryly points out this means that the soon-to-die Space has won this year's Big Brother, for what it's worth, before asking him to open the door so she can charge her way out. Space argues against it - pointing out that it's certain suicide, but she's locked in the "diary room" with no food, no water, no escape, and no hope. Even a desperate suicidal charge out in an extremely slim chance of survival, versus zero chance where she is. And he needs to let her out before he turns and that option is no longer available.

The last shot shows a now zombified woman, who we see to be Kelly - getting her wish - she's on TV. Watching herself, fascinatedly, on a TV screen. 

There are any of a number of interpretations of this story, but the disdain the producers had for their own profession is telling. There's really nobody competent in the group: one half are interns who thought the industry would be all about glamor and are either fetching coffee or flicking a switch to get from Camera 1 to Camera 2. Early on in the series Riq complains via phone to Kelly that now that she's with the "glamor set" she's breaking up with him, right? Even as she's filing papers after doing a coffee run. The producers are no better - bullying people right out of college and low-IQ would be D-listers straight out of England's version of the projects. The only competent human being is killed off early by the idle dreams of another to return to the studio. 

The zombies, having no IQ or sentience, are fascinated by the TV image. Depending on their previous profession, they're either fascinated by it or eyeing it in an attempt to analyze or hunt. 

Even though you know the story, do check this particular series out. It's stylish, fulll of observations and off-hand comments that really elevate the material. Though done for TV and episodic, there's side boob, nipple, and considerable violence including evisceration and live drawing and quartering.

And it's realistic, which is a nice plus - the act that dooms them all is not one of abject stupidity but a completely unforseen and surprising act of suicidal nihilism. One of the things that really upset me about Dawn of the Dead was the idiotic move one character has to jump the gun and doom them all by prematurely jumping after a dog that is in no danger of being destroyed by the zombies, as they don't eat any other species but us. 

There's no "don't go into the house! Don't go into the house! You idiot! You went into the house!" scripting here. People don't stand in one place crying when they see a loved one zombified - when a competent character is bitten when it's known that's a death sentence simply gets the other to kill her immediately, and the one cop shoots the other immediately when he sees the wound. The only one who cannot deal with the new situaiton, e.g. complaining that another person trapped in a room with her actually needs to void bladder and/or bowels and complains that that's gross, etc. is a competely vapid airhead and it's an actual thing that she's considered stupid even by reality TV standards. People ravenously eat spoiled food. Even Grayson's stupid move to untie Angela is not an act of stupidity but a believable act of humanity - they've been good friends for weeks, he's a nurse used to being asked for small moments of kindness against the rules and dispensing them. He also doesn't realize how fast a dead person "turns" and thinks he'll have time to react to her death. 

When I say realistic, it's also sad that it presents the crowd (and by extension, humanity) as brain-dead zombies fascinated by idiots in a gilded cage, with an obvious doom resulting from people who need to solve and avoid a crisis having no other skill set except cultivating and nurturing pointless crisis. Or even worse, mercenary people watching the end of the world going on and riot police dispatching crowds and only ever worrying that it might mean they get "bumped" for a news update. 

Netflix says it's "Series 1" but there can't be a Series 2. And this being England, there won't be a series 2. What there is is five beautiful episodes, a miniseries of drama and horror well worth the watch. Competently scripted, well acted, and with all manner of interesting characterizations and character development, it's worth the watch.

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