An Australian zombie horror film from 2014. As a review, serious spoilers abound.
Zombie films are never really about the zombies, but the survivors. Even the Ur-example, the epic Night of the Living Dead, was almost all about the power plays between different camps of survivors with the baying ghouls outside.
The genre has been used to comment on a lot of things, when taken seriously, and nothing, when not taken seriously. In the same weekend I saw The Coed and the Zombie Stoner which had literally nothing to say but made up for it with some admittedly very nice full frontal nudity. It's at the beginning, so if you want to see it, you don't have to sit through the rest of the movie to enjoy all it has to offer.
There was a point to that anecdote.
This is a debut feature from two film students who assembled a nice cast of three, with a few more at the beginning who are quickly got out of the way so that the dynamics of the three important characters are allowed to play out.
In this film, Z-Day happens and some survivors are holed up in rural Australia. Final Girl Evie and a rag tag bunch of disposable survivors are holed up in a metal shed. One of their member wants to set out for the coast, but she wants to wait to see if her husband John makes it to their rendezvous point. They were separated in some kind of zombie ambush, and there's an equal chance that he survived, or that he was permanently trapped.
The zombies in this film are a threat. Upon hearing them in the distance they immediately head inside and extinguish all the lights. One says they have half a chance with one or two during daylight, but at night just run. Run like hell.
This achieves two things: one to eliminate the need for any visible zombies throughout most of the film, but also to establish them as a real and viable threat. There will be no strapping-up heroics and taking on the hordes. You do one thing and one thing only, RUN. (This is also important).
The rest decide to leave for the coast, to a more secure place to hole up. When an older man objects, agreeing with Evie that they should try and find her husband first - the younger man blows half his head away with a firearm and orders the rest into the car.
Evie opts to stay. Tearfully, the others obey out of self preservation.
John shows up, a fey, university professor type with asthma. He's livid she "allowed" them to leave with all the supplies. What's clear, though is that they met a gruesome end as one of their party is literally limping back at about the same time, bites of her flesh clearly gouged out by the attack, begging to be shot because the transformation hurts.
John shoots her in the head.
They live out their lives in the shelter, and it gets to John to the point where Evie catches him about to commit suicide. As they deal with that shock a stranger, Charlie, comes in their midst. He's driving a "ute" and is handy with his hands and friendly. John wants to shoot him at first, but Evie takes him in and vituperates his lack of trust.
Charlie's handy, and he has supplies. But he does offer Evie a brooch and hints at a far greater interest in her than he should have. When John's remaining inhaler gives out and he's clearly dying of an asthma attack, she begs Charlie to go find more medication out there - to which he goes into a full bore "nice guy" rant saying that he isn't exactly someone to just order around. He's shown up, he's fixed up their property, he's bought supplies, given them companionship. He could, in theory, leave them both for dead right now. He could in theory go get some medication, sure. Just there is something he wants out of it. She doesn't have to do a single thing. Just not fight back.
He rapes her and leaves, but is a man of his word and returns with the medication: but also subtly orders her to help him unpack the supplies. She's not comfortable any more, but what matters most is that John is alive. She doesn't want Charley around any more but rather than admit what happened or communicate properly makes vague comments about John "being a man" and finds the excuse that a photo Charlie showed them earlier of "his family" clearly wasn't - they find the other half of the picture in his Ute - it's someone else's family. And the last of his conquests who tried to run from him, now a zombie, in the trunk. He's watching her to see how long it takes her to die.
The long and the short of it is, John orders Charley to leave at gunpoint, Evie is finally relieved: until Charley comes back a few minutes later. Correctly guessing that John is too much of a coward to fire at him, he rants about all he's done for them, drags Evie off by the hair and rapes her while John collapses in tears.
He's broken from his reverie by a soldier threatening him with a shotgun. There's an evacuation, but he got separated from his unit. John uses the zombie in the trunk to distract the soldier enough to grab his weapon, and then his clothes. Using the shotgun, he bursts in to the shed and blows Charley away, but doesn't know how to re-rack the shotgun for a second shot. This leaves Charlie, with the pistol - to fire one shot before he dies, which he does into Evie, who collapses with a chest/shoulder wound.
John patches her up and takes her to the point, where his cries out do nothing but attract zombies. He tells her they have to run, but she's too injured and won't stand. He hands her the pistol and starts to run away, but she realizes she's being abandoned and shoots him in the knee. He collapses, she gives him the gun, and starts walking away. John tries the coward's way out but there's no bullets left in the gun, so they dismember him alive, screaming, as she walks away in a haze. Between her gait and their distraction with his body, she gets away... to the extraction point.
There's only one problem with this movie: and that it's written by two men.
Of course it's a long dissertation on the challenges of modern masculinity.
Of course it's going to talk about nice guys, hipsters, jerks, people more ready to commit violence than others, macho blustering, and "get in the car, we're going to drive to certain death, because I can beat my chest harder than you." It's also nice that the "real man" at the beginning leads the party to their doom at the beginning of the film, making the case that violence and alpha domineering is sometimes futile.
But by making the woman the central point of the film and having her merely something fought over, it blunts what the film could have been. It either should have made her little more than a pawn and explored the conflicts between the men, or been written by a woman and had character development as to how the woman discovers her own power, or at least explored being treated as property from her point of view. The Seasoning House is a harrowing description of even worse circumstances (a deaf and mute girl in a war zone preparing women for prostitution by injecting them with heroin to be compliant) from a female perspective so when done with the right amount of guts it works really well.
Instead what we end up with is a fey, constantly crying hipster being menaced by a "Nice Guy"(TM) while the girl complains the former "social studies" professor isn't "acting like a real man" which is apparently the way women say "the man raped me, so would you please kill the bastard already."
Don't get me wrong. It's a good film. It's a pretty good debut film. It's a decent zombie film after the genre got plugged up with dreck like The Coed and the Zombie Stoner whose only real attraction is the nipples and pert labia of two of the female stars who run towards the camera completely naked at the beginning.
But what keeps it from being an amazing film is that it hinted at some character development, but ultimately delivered little more than a few cliches. It was competently scripted and acted, but outbursts and fury are no match for a genuine change in character. These are young men with chops and with a bright future ahead of them - with some interactions with better writers and some life experience, they'll turn out some excellent stuff.