Sunday, January 13, 2013

Horror Film Review

Remains (2011):  Zombie flick!  As you can see from the poster, the action is set in Reno, NV.  Now there's two words you don't often see together..."action" and "Reno."  I will give them credit for the poker hand, though.  Aces and eights is called the "dead man's hand" because that's what Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was gunned Deadwood, SD.  Surely, this attention to detail and tongue-in-cheekiness can only bode well for the film itself.  Well...

An accident involving a device designed to rid the world of nuclear weapons (or some such nonsense) turns most of the population into flesh-eating zombies.  A few folks in a run-down casino, who are battling their own personal demons, survive.  We have Tom (Grant Bowler) the alcoholic blackjack dealer, Tori (Evalena Marie) the self-loathing waitress, Jensen (Miko Hughes) the insecure gay magician, and Victor (Anthony Marks) the self-absorbed opportunist.  Tom and Tori have a love/hate thing going on, by the way, and while I normally despise this conceit, it works here.  Anyway, after clearing and securing the casino, they settle in to wait for help to arrive.  When it doesn't, they attempt to leave on their own, resulting in some unexpected hilarity.  Eventually, a group of asshole military commandos led by Ramsey (Lance Reddick) shows up promising rescue.  Ramsey's medic daughter Cindy (Tawny Cypress) takes a shine to Tom.  Ramsey's guys are hiding something, of course, which leads to an unfortunate confrontation.  And another "of course" is the fact that Jensen, the only gay character, gets killed first.  Ever notice how horror movies have changed it from the person of color getting killed first to the gay dude?  Is this progress?  At any rate, in the end, Tori goes psycho, and Tom decides to help Cindy get to Carson City to find her kid.

Some of the things I liked about Remains are the complicated relationships between Tom and Tori and Jensen and Victor.  There's actual character development.  Unheard of zombie movies.  I also liked the vehicle used for the escape...a tiny Smart car.  When they can't raise the garage door and decide to ram it, well, you'll have to see it.  As for the zombies...they're weird.  They're of the fast variety, go into a kind of sleep state at night, and eat not only non-zombies but each other as well.  We're never given an explanation regarding how that device created them in the first place.  It's not necessary, but just a hint of science would have lent the film a greater degree of realism that would have aided in the suspension of my disbelief.  Blah blah blah.  There's zombie carnage so I'm good.


Acting:  Bowler as Tom reminded me of Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly), which is a plus.  You really come to dislike Tori, so Marie did her job.  Except for Cypress, the army guys are just this side of terrible.
Story:  It's what I've said for years -  you can't reinvent the zombie flick wheel; all you can do is tweak the formula and make it your own.  And they did that here mostly to positive effect.  It's been adapted from Steve Niles' graphic novel.
Direction:  Colin Theys at the helm knows what he's doing for the most part. 
Production Values:  They had a $750,000 budget to play with and used it well.  It was shot on film, not video.  Quality sets and set pieces.  Nothing looks or feels cheap.  Oddly, they shot it in Connecticut blending in some establishing shots of Reno.  It worked.  Of course, I've never been to Reno.
Gore/FX:  More than an average amount of awesome nastiness but not over the top.  The zombie make-up is properly gross.  CGI is used sparingly but effectively, mostly for head shots and explosions.  Very nice.
Scares:  A few mild ones.  You will be in no danger of soiling yourself.
Ending:  Just the right balance of hope and "oh, crap."  What happens to Tori is inspired.
Verdict:  Should you see Remains?  I recommend it, yes.  Although far from perfect, it's a respectable entry in the genre.  One tiny beef...the title.  Too generic.  What about The Biggest Little Zombie Movie in the World?  OK, maybe not.

Rating:  3 out of 5

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