Saturday, July 27, 2013

Horror Film Review

State of Emergency (2011):  Zombie flick!  Some moron on IMDB posted a review declaring, "Don't expect a zombie flick."  This reviewer said (I'm not kidding) that it's not like The Walking Dead because it focuses on the characters and their personalities.  Dude, have you actually seen The Walking Dead?  That show's all about the personalities of the characters.  As for this film, let me see...chemical accident, flesh-eating undead, survivors barricaded, military swarming.  Yep.  It's definitely not a zombie movie.  IMDB moron...

We start in the middle with a decidedly anxious Jim (Jay Hayden) sitting on the top step of a staircase training his scoped rifle toward the bottom where Scott (Scott Lilly) has both hands firmly planted on the door and legs braced against the opposite wall.  In a room behind Jim, Scott's wife Julie (Kathryn Todd Norman) whimpers and Ix (Tori White) is in a diabetic coma.  When Jim's ready, Scott abandons the door and hikes up the stairs.  Noises outside the door getting closer, horror movie music builds to an unbearable crescendo, and then...flashback to Jim carrying his fiancĂ© across a field.  They're running from something.  She's hurt and dies sitting against a tree.  He takes refuge in a horse barn, learns from the TV there was an explosion at a former chemical weapons plant and the army has taken over.  After a seriously intense encounter with a red-eyed, psycho zombie, Jim scurries down the hill and joins up with Scott, Julie, and Ix in an abandoned tobacco warehouse.  On the second floor, up a familiar flight of stairs, is office space.  They swap stories, paint HELP on the roof, and hunker down to await rescue.  Ix collapses after running out of insulin prompting Jim to venture outside in search of one of the many emergency supply caches the army airdropped all over the county.  He finds it and after some adventure, makes it back to save Ix.  Soon thereafter, they discover a zombie has somehow gotten inside and retreat to the second floor, which is where the film started.  Zombie bursts in, Jim takes him out, more sounds in the warehouse, Jim investigates, encounters marines in gas masks yelling at him.  You'd expect a Night of the Living Dead ending with the jarheads shooting Jim dead or another clichĂ© ending where the entire county is nuked or carpet bombed.  Nope, nope, and nope.  Weird, I know.

I will admit there aren't masses of zombies, rather just individuals wandering about, and there are only four characters we follow making it one of the most minimalist zombie flicks ever.  What's groovy about these is that expensive set pieces and CGI are eschewed in favor of good old-fashioned suspense.  The bit with Jim in the horse barn has some of the most tense, edge-of-your-seat scenes I've ever watched.  Unfortunately, that quality isn't maintained after he flees to the warehouse.  And then there's the thing with Ix.  She mentions to Jim that she's run out of candy bars, seems upset by it.  Then the collapse, Jim getting the insulin.  If you need candy, you're hypoglycemic and the last thing you give someone with low blood sugar is insulin.  Also didn't understand why they slept on cots in the middle of the warehouse floor instead of in the offices on the second floor where they'd have two more doors between them and the outside.  It's the little things that bug me.

One last, meaningless observation.  I don't know how to explain this exactly, but Jay Hayden bears a freakishly close resemblance to both Erica Bana and a young Richard Gere.  It almost drove me to distraction trying to figure that out.  Seriously, bring up photos of all three and tell me I'm wrong.


Acting:  Hayden is really quite good.  Lilly as Scott really isn't.  He spoke in voice you normally hear from tour guides or flight attendants.  Artificially emoted and oddly lifeless.  White and Norman are fine.
Story:  Not what you'd call an overly ambitious story arc.  That said, it didn't need to be.  This is the polar opposite of World War Z.
Direction:  I've never really known how to judge a film's direction.  I just fake it.  In this case, however, I can confidently report that director Turner Clay did real good.  See?  I'm a professional.
Production Values:  A budget of $1.3 million used efficiently and effectively.  I don't know what film stock they used, but it has a quality that somehow adds to the realism.  Also impressive is the sound.  Unnaturally crisp and clear. 
Gore/FX:  Some head shots and a quick cannibalism scene.  You'd find worse in an episode of, well, The Walking Dead.  The scores of military choppers and jets are CGI and well done.
Scares:  There are, yes, but it's the suspense they were aiming for.  And they hit the mark. 
Ending:  I've never in my life witnessed a zombie film climax that's so...(yawn).  I'm all for happy endings, but really.
Verdict: Should you see State of Emergency?  It's got enough going for it to give a try.  Just tune out Lilly and stop the film when the marines start yelling at Jim.

Rating:  3 out of 5

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