Future releases: Zombie time!

I love Zombies. I know that isn’t an unusual claim in our zombie-saturated pop-culture world, but its true. I suppose it is something to do with the post-apocalyptic connection – the arrival of zombies is rarely a positive event for the human race – but there is also something genuinely terrifying about them as a horror antagonist. Those who are currently watching series 3 of The Walking Dead will undoubtedly agree with me; after countless movies (not to mention comics and novels) somehow the slowly shuffling shadow of a zombie still gets my heart racing.

World War Z

2013 will see the arrival of two new zombie cinematic outings. One has been on my radar for quite some time, yet it is the less anticipated of the two. Click here to watch the trailer for World War Z.

The die-hard zombie fanatics amongst you have almost certainly already read Max Brook’s World War Z, an exhaustive account of a global zombie plague, encompassing the downfall of humanity and ultimately its fight for survival, that also manages to tell personal stories for a number of compelling characters.

The film version looks to be quite a bit different from the source material, which is a disappointment, but not an unexpected one – any adaption of the book would cost in excess of $100 million and a faithful adaption would never draw in sufficient audience numbers to justify that kind of cost.

So I remain quietly hopeful that the film will entertain on some level. Director Marc Forster has some strong films under his belt (in particular, Stranger than Fiction). Yet the production has been troubled (to put it lightly) and the trailer has started the internet horde braying about CGI-zombies. I have to say, the trailer doesn’t exactly fill me with hope, but I will keep an open mind and, fingers crossed, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.

Warm Bodies

The other zombie release is Warm Bodies, a zombie romantic comedy, or zom-rom-com (thanks Edgar et al)! Check it out here.

I’ve always enjoyed my horror with a touch of humour – after all, is it really possible to take the concept of the walking dead entirely seriously? Warm Bodies may appear on the surface to be appealing to the Twilight crowd, but I do think there will be more to it than that.

Its directed by Jonathan Levine, whose The Wackness and 50/50 I enjoyed quite a bit. Both his previous efforts play against expectations and hopefully Warm Bodies will too. Telling the story from the zombie’s perspective is a nice spin (I feel like it has been done elsewhere, but can’t quite remember where…) and the idea of a zombie falling for a apocalypse-hardened, yet still cute-as-a-button girl might just be ridiculous enough to work.

Plus its got Malkovich in it! Someone has managed to put Malkovich versus zombies on our screens and – frankly – it would be rude not to go see that.

‘The World’s End’ finally within sight

Now, I had made the decision not to report on the minutiae of impending films still in the production stages, but this I have to mention.

There are few things in this world that make me happier that the prospect of seeing Nick Frost and Simon Pegg performing together. Their on-screen relationship, starting in TV cult favourite Spaced and continuing with their cinematic outings, has genuinely touched me over the years, reflecting, as it does, friendships that I hold dear. That we will see them together again, under the firm guiding hand of director Edgar Wright (that Wright is directing a new film is, in itself, exciting enough to warrant an announcement), is fantastic news.

We already knew that the three intended to work together again (it will be the first time since Hot Fuzz in 2007) and that the next feature would be called The World’s End. Now a plot summary has been revealed and it would seem that my dream has come true and the trio intend to make a movie with an apocalyptic slant;

20 years after attempting an epic pub crawl, five childhood friends reunite when one of them becomes hell bent on trying the drinking marathon again. They are convinced to stage an encore by mate Gary King, a 40-year old man trapped at the cigarette end of his teens, who drags his reluctant pals to their home town and once again attempts to reach the fabled pub, The World’s End. As they attempt to reconcile the past and present, they realize the real struggle is for the future, not just theirs but humankind’s. Reaching The World’s End is the least of their worries.

The summary seems to promise more of the same from Frost, Pegg and Wright, namely a compelling genre-homage with well-established and grounded characters and a welcome British sensibility. And no doubt it will be hilarious as well. Happy times.

Hope for the future

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The second series of The Walking Dead has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand we’ve been given something that I’ve always wanted – a zombie-based TV show – and on the other hand, that show has frequently demonstrated poor pacing and a lack of direction. But still we have a zombie TV show, so perhaps we shouldn’t complain too loudly.

The second series of The Walking Dead took place on Hershal’s farm, a locale where the protagonists hung out for little more than a couple of issues in the source material (a long-running cult-favourite comic of the same name), before things came to a head and the gang were forced to move on. Yet in the show, this lasted for something like 11 episodes. During this lengthy and frequently uneventful stay on the farm, it seemed to me like nothing of real consequence happened for whole episodes.

Image(It should be noted at this point that I like the comic book not only because of the badass zombie action it provides, but because it is first and foremost a story about people caught up in a difficult situation. One of the primary reasons I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction is that it can provide a platform for social commentary and the exploration of the ways communities evolve in and adapt to high-pressure situations. The comic does this, with perhaps more than a touch of melodrama, admirably. Yet the show, up until this point hasn’t managed to match the comic on this front – I have found the characters uninteresting and – at times – quite grating. If I appear to seem biased towards the more action-orientated aspects of this show, it is because it has – at least up until now – failed to provide consistently interesting characters or social interactions. And the action frequently kicks ass.)

As the finale unfolded, it was hard not to think that these events should have happened four or five episodes ago. Yet it was exciting to see the characters finally move on. Bringing the group together once they had fled the house allowed us to take stock of who we were left with. Throughout the series I haven’t been particularly engaged with the ensemble cast, yet seeing them all together, forced into a position where they will have to function as a cohesive group, I felt hopeful that perhaps this cast could provide an interesting dynamic as we move forward into the next series.

The zombie attack on the farm was possibly a highpoint of the series thus far. The action was exciting, fast-paced and perfectly paced as the group first try to defend the farm and then resorted to fleeing. The hazy shots of the crowds of zombies, backlit by the burning barn, were fitting goodbye to this chapter of the story.

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Any fan of the comic will tell you that its backbone is Rick and his struggle to balance his humanity with what he is prepared to do to ensure the survival of the group and his family. Forcing Rick to kill Shane has proven their willingness to take Rick down darker paths that the comic didn’t shy away from. Rick’s brutal admission to the killing shows that he is prepared to embrace the necessary brutality of this new world in order to become the true leader that the group needs.

The series finished by providing fans of the comic with a couple of teasing glimpses of familiar faces and locales that the next series will introduce. That they let us know that these key aspects of the comic will form part of the story of the TV series is reassuring and has left this fan greatly anticipating the possibiliities of the next series.

Despite all the slip ups we have experienced since Frank Darabonts exceptional pilot episode, it feels like series three could be the best yet. The final reveal of the nearby prison and the brilliant entry of a mysterious hooded stranger, trailing two tame (armless, presumably toothless – I can’t recall from the comic) zombie on chains, was a tempting glimpse into future of the series.

The Road

My interest in all things post apocalyptic will most likely become apparent during the course of this blog. Considering the ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy is pretty much one of the quintessential post-apocalyptic novels, it’s ridiculous that it has taken me this long to watch the movie adaptation. But it’s a harrowing read – beautifully written, yes. But still harrowing. And I expected (and hoped for) nothing less from the film.

This is post-apocalyptic fiction stripped down to the bare bones; stripped of all unnecessary plotting and characters. There is no hint of what has come before and no indication that the future might hold hope. A man and his young son struggle across the dying American landscape, heading to the coast in the vague hope that life might be better there.

The film depends entirely on the central relationship between the man and the boy (no names are given – there really is no superfluous information in this story). Luckily both Vigo Mortisen and Kodi Smit-McPhee turn in excellent performances.

Vigo looks truly haggard and manages to capture the subtle balance of tragic acceptance and the relentless strive for survival. His character often acts in seemingly irrational ways, yet he always remains sympathetic. When a man tries to steal his possessions, his response is to force the man to strip naked, take his pitiful clothes and leave him to perish. Cold, illogical actions, yet played with such tired hopelessness, that you can’t help but think perhaps you might have done the same.

The boy was always going to be a hard role to fill. Child actors capable of giving a natural and unaffected performance are hard to find, and one capable of giving a believable response to the sort of situations that these characters find themselves in (seeing the starving and desperate people in the basement of the cannibals, for example) even harder. It should be traumatic to see someone so young have to deal with such brutal circumstances, and Smit-McPhee is very convincing.

The landscape that the man and the boy journey through is equally convincing. Wide shots are rare – the film tends not to throw spectacle in it’s audiences faces, yet the few landscapes and establishing shots we do see are fantastic. The colours of the film are muted and washed out (though I have to say I thought it would be darker – I recall the book implying a gradual and scary loss of light as the sun is increasingly blocked out).

Fans of the book might have been concerned that the film would shy away from the darker aspects of the film. Such concerns were unfounded. Every aspect of the book remains in tact, including plenty of cannibals. It’s rare to find a film that is this bleak and hopeless – there is a glimmer of hope at the end, but it’s not much.

The majority of post-apocalyptic fiction supposes that all is not lost, that society has a chance of being rebuilt. What makes The Road stand out is the sense that we are witnessing the end of all things. Yet people endure and try to survive – even in the face of such hopelessness.The Road