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.
Locked Away is an extremely ambitious ultra-low budget zombie film out of Michigan by writer/director Jason Morisette. I say it’s extremely ambitious because with very little money, a small crew, and actors who are not professionals, the easy way of diving into the zombie pool is go for comedy. Usually the broader, the better. Audiences are more forgiving of amateur work when they’re encouraged to laugh at it, and most first-time indie horror directors opt to go for the humor.
Morisette does not. Locked Away is a very serious attempt to make a serious film about the undead. There are comedic elements, of course. The script makes sure to give us a variety of characters, some of whom are a little on the goofier side, I’m looking at you, Professor Spriggs (J. Kevin O’Conner), but overall the story focuses on characters who are dealing with real life issues with a side of zombies.
The main thrust of the plot concerns the return from war of Michael Turner (Travis Boswell). His father (Tom Fuller) is a bit of a dick, his mom (Jan Armbruster) is a bit oblivious, his girlfriend Jen (Meagan Eager) is seeing someone else, and his little brother Ty (Ben Gordon) is about to make the biggest mistake of his young life. Another kid, Brad Savini (Max Dardas) has a secret that he can’t wait to share with monster-loving Ty – he’s got a zombie uncle (Matt Crews) locked up in the family shed.
I’m gonna be honest here. Most of the reviews give Locked Away a lot of leeway. The performances are passable, for the most part, but most are clearly community theater vets. The effects aren’t great, but there are a few moments where some clever work is done with very little and every now and then there’s a truly impressive piece of work. The straight plot is solid, but the actors aren’t really up to making the script work like it could. The zombie plot is pretty standard, although Morisette has thrown in an original twist, making the standard head shot ineffective and instead relying on a more “scientific” way of killing the zombies (due to concerns over the use of squibs on the over 150 people who signed up to play the undead).
Unfortunately, that unique approach causes the climax to be kind of silly, forcing the tone of the film to shift away from the serious approach Morisette has established over the first hour plus.
Oh yeah. This film is a full hour and thirty-eight minutes, with scenes intercut with the closing credits, so there’s no stopping short of that runtime (and the musical choice for the closing credits really made me want to stop the movie) without finding out what happens to the last survivor.
It’s about fifteen or so minutes too long, but the only things I could think of to cut would have seriously undermined the dramatic character work that Morisette brings to the story, and that’s really what makes the film special. Then, despite the longer runtime, there are a few emotional payoffs that fall short because they’re forced to play out too quickly in order to fit in amongst the zombie carnage.
This is a film that aspiring low/no budget horror filmmakers should probably put on their watch list. The fact that Morisette was able to put together a complete film is impressive in itself, as making a movie is a nightmare. That he stuck to his guns and made a serious zombie film, dealing with actual issues beyond just surviving the undead horde, is also very impressive. The original shoot took place in 2004, premiering in Bay City, Michigan in the summer of 2006. It then took eleven more years to get a distribution deal. That right there is inspirational enough to give Locked Away a look.
However, if you’re not interested in how films like this get made and just want to be entertained with some fast-paced gore, you might want to give it a pass.