It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.
After the letdown of this week’s The Walking Dead, I was really hoping to dig into a solid low-budget zombie film that would get this year’s Easter Zombie Movie Marathon off to a roaring start. Alas, it was not to be.
State of Emergency is a film written and directed by Turner Clay and from the very opening shot we know that this is serious business. Clay is not interested in schlock or splatter, and is, in fact only tangentially interested in zombies. Because this isn’t a zombie film despite what that poster says. This is a film along the lines of 28 Days Later, where a chemical explosion in a small town has turned the majority of the population into psychotic rage killers. But if you kill them, they’re dead. They’re not coming back.
So this was not a great way to kick off a marathon of zombie films, needless to say.
With that said, Clay makes decent use of his budget ($1.3 million, if the internet is to be believed) when it comes to staging the shots, setting scenes, and utilizing very effective lighting. The film doesn’t dwell on the gore, but when it does it is very nicely done with a visceral feel that is unnerving and believable.
Unfortunately, Clay opts to not focus on the more commercial aspects of the genre and the violence and gore are usually understated or off-screen. And when we do see something with some splat, it’s usually digitally enhanced. Which, if you’re looking for traditional zombie/plague scares, is disappointing.
But Clay isn’t looking for traditional scares.
This is a film about characters, rather than about gore; rather than about scares. The cast is kept small with our protagonist Jim played to perfection by Jay Hayden. Hayden is easily the most talented performer in the film and he does the best with everything he’s given in a script that has some serious problems.
None of these characters have any depth or purpose other than to make Jim look like the perfect man, whose every decision is correct and every action is justified and successful.
Norman does what she can with a thankless role. Playing Scott’s wife essentially means hanging around the back of shot, offering food and water, and being concerned while the menfolk get on with their business. White is actually good at portraying the awkwardness of friendless Ix (ugh, that name!), but is trapped in a script that relegates her to playing the bitch, then the self-hating guilt-machine, then passing out into a diabetic coma for the remainder of the film.
There’s really not anything for the women to do here but hang around and be quiet until their required to panic or pass out.
Lilly’s character Scott is almost as ineffectual as the others, freezing when danger approaches, acting like a shit when he’s challenged, and ultimately cheerleading Jim as he saves everyone. And while Lilly’s performance isn’t horrible, it’s easily the most amateurish of the cast.
Normally, I wouldn’t focus this much on aspects like this and especially wouldn’t call out individual performers for weak acting, but while $1.3 million isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things when it comes to budgets, it’s a shit ton more than many films we’ve reviewed here with better performances and better scripts.
And the main problem here is the script.
Jim loses his fiancé in the opening moments of the film, and in flashbacks we learn that he is the perfect boyfriend (although he won’t make the bed, the cheeky bastard). She dies the day he plans on proposing, which happens to be the day of the explosion. If there’s a crack in his armor it’s in the fact that she dies as the result of injuries from a car crash. Maybe he was driving. Maybe not. It’s not clear.
All we know is that she dies in his arms and the rest of the film is spent demonstrating that his every decision is the right one. He is always ready to defend others, to say the right thing, to develop the right plan of action. He’s so goddamn perfect that it’s incredibly boring. He has no flaws that allow the viewer to sympathize with him.
Instead we are obliged to watch as he does all the right things, says all the right things, and saves the day.
Oh yeah. There’s a happy ending, too. Jim saves useless Scott and Julie and gets insulin to save Ix from a diabetic coma.
There’s no humor. There’s no splatter. There’s no real sense of danger.
The infected are either shot dead at a distance or encountered one at a time in a way that makes it clear that they’re no real threat. But we’re supposed to feel that threat regardless.
For $1.3 million we could have had more than one monster at a time.
Ultimately, what we have here is a solid attempt at crafting a serious film about a serious situation. The cinematography and editing is very strong. The overall direction is solid, as well. I feel bad complaining about the film because it does look very good. But that script…
If you’re looking for zombie action, then keep looking. However, Clay’s latest film, Disaster L.A.: The Last Zombie Apocalypse Begins Here, sounds like it might be more entertaining, and given the technical strengths on display here, I’m intrigued and hope to check it out.