Black Fawn Films/Color Red Productions
Directed by Reese Eveneshen
Reviewed by Anthony C. Francis
Oh zombie film, how I love thee! It is one of the most popular of the horror franchises and has been since George A. Romero’s game changing 1968 masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. That film raised the bar on the zombie film, turned it into a bankable genre, and opened the flood gates for countless wannabes, odes, and rip-offs.
In 1978, Romero again upped the ante with, in my opinion, the masterpiece of all zombie films Dawn of the Dead. After the critical and commercial success of this film, the Italians took over and throughout the 1980’s gave the world even more gruesome and fun films starring the undead. Romero only made one more zombie film in the mid 80’s, the underwhelming but still fun Day of the Dead. , That film failed to reach audiences at the time of its release but has gone on to become a cult classic.
The nineties saw a slowing down of the genre and we really didn’t see many more substantial zombie films until 2005 when Romero returned with his first film of the genre in 20 years, Land of the Dead. That film was a critical and cult hit and seemed to reinvigorate the hunger (pardon the pun!) for the genre. Also, please don’t argue that 2002’s 28 Days Later was a zombie film. It was not! Pardon my “movie geekness” but the victims were infected with a rage virus. They did not want to eat their victims as much as tear them apart in a rage and they did not die and come back to life. I digress…
We started to see a slew of zombie related films over the past ten years including two more from Romero, the excellent Diary of the Dead and the lifeless Survival of the Dead. The horror comedy Zombieland was backed by a major Hollywood studio and saw great financial returns including many positive reviews.
Today we have television’s The Walking Dead, based on the graphic comics of the same name. This show could be the finest entry in the zombie universe since Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as it contains the best elements that make films in this genre stand out. The human drama is as exciting and shocking as the zombie attacks themselves. It is the drama, as much as the gore and terror which is the key to a successful horror film. If we don’t care for our characters, it is not horrifying when they die.
Now we have the Canadian entry, Dead Genesis. It is, at once, a love letter to the Romero zombie films and a fresh take on the genre.
The plot is interesting; seven months after the zombie outbreak humans have decided to wage a war against the undead, aptly titled the “War on Dead” campaign, which should have been the film’s title. An amateur documentarian sets out to make a pro-war propaganda film and follows a unit of renegade zombie hunters known as the “deadheads”. As she follows the hunters she tries to get different perspectives on why everyday people would take up arms to fight the undead.
The film opens with a truly horrific sequence that breaks my “children in peril” rule for horror films. We see a mother chewing on the flesh of her young son as the father looks on in horror, preparing to shoot her. The child is not dead and is twitching in dying horror as he is devoured by his “zombified” mother. The father, with tears in his eyes, shoots the mother in the head and painfully waits for his son to turn and, when he does, kills his son in the same gruesome fashion. The scene is horrifying and tragic as we see the pain and heartbreak of a father who has lost his family and must now destroy the monsters that they have become. I have been adamant in my dislike of children dying in horror films for our “thrill” but this scene is pure drama drenched in horror and it works, hitting us at a gut level emotionally. It is a powerful opening.
By the title card we see that this is Day 4 of the zombie plague. The following scenes lead us through a few other terrifying events culminating in the moment where we meet our female documentarian, Jillian, and the story begins in the seventh month of the outbreak.
Jillian hooks up with the “deadheads” and we spend the rest of the film in the woods with them as they hunt the undead and wax poetic on life before and after the outbreak.
This is where the film, occasionally, slips into boredom. There are too many sequences where Jillian interviews the same members two or more times and after one interview, there is nothing new to say about their situations. Some of the backstories are interesting but the monologues become repetitive and they do bring the film to an alarming halt for a while. There are, in fact, zombie attacks and patrols where the “deadheads” go looking for undead to destroy, but they become too far in between the talky middle section of the film.
My only other complaint is its lack of humor. I am not asking for a comedy, I was one of the few who did not enjoy Zombieland, but I feel that this film occasionally became too sullen. Every horror film needs to lighten up at some point, if only for a moment.
On the flip side of the negative aspects that I just spoke of, the film is smart in its examination of the ethics of humanity and how we can continue to act in a rational manner while the world around us crumbles. In fighting monsters must we lose our humanity to do so? This is the main question posed by the film.
It is nice to see social and political issues return to a zombie film. Frankly, this film does it much better than Romero’s last try in his Survival of the Dead.
The look of the film is gritty and realistic. The filmmakers could have easily jumped on the “found footage” bandwagon but chose to go for an almost documentary feel without resorting to well-worn genre tactics. The days are filmed in a yellow glow while the night scenes, of which there are few, are properly dark and infuse the film with a nice sense of dread. Reese Eveneshen was the cinematographer and also happened to be the film’s director, writer, producer, and editor!
Eveneshen has done a fine job with this film and shows talent as a horror director. The entire cast and crew worked for no money, devoting their time and effort to a project and filmmaker they believed in. This is the mark of a director that is to be trusted and admired. Dead Genesis is his only feature length film so far and he has been mum on his next project but I am interested to see what follows.
The cast, chock full of unknowns, does a good enough job for the material, as the performances range from good to mediocre with no one dipping into awful territory. It is fine that there are neither “Brandos” nor “Streeps” in this film. To be fair, Romero’s actors could never be accused of deserving acting awards either.
Dead Genesis is a solid and welcome entry to the zombie genre. It does have its problems due to a slow middle section but it is entertaining and fairly original. It is a horror film with great gore effects and good human drama. George A. Romero and horror fans alike would be proud!