Directed by: Antonio Tublen
Run time: 95 minutes
The Lowdown: For a genre that has seemingly exhausted every possible scenario, it’s often surprising to me how few zombie films take the time to explore the eternal bond between lovers that a sudden undead insurrection might threaten to destroy.
I mean, think about it. How many zombie films can you name where the plot focused mainly on two humans trying to navigate the unimaginable?
I can think of two: [rec] 3: Genesis and The Return of the Living Dead, and I fully realize that Freddy and Tina’s story isn’t at the forefront of Dan O’Bannon’s seminal splatterpiece.
Maybe that’s why Antonio Tublen’s masterful Zoo hit me so hard in the feels.
Seriously, this is one of the best films I’ve seen so far in 2019, and it ranks as one of the most emotionally satisfying, heart-wrenching zombie tales I’ve ever watched.
Zoo tells the story of Karen (Zoë Tapper) and John (Ed Speleers), two UK millennial's struggling to salvage their marriage after a miscarriage. John remains the dutiful provider, trudging off to work every day, while Karen can barely muster the strength to get out of bed, much less hold an actual conversation.
And then, one morning, a plane crashes into the high-rise apartment building adjacent to theirs and the world is suddenly engulfed in a nightmare where the newly dead transform within minutes into ravenous, crazed hunters.
Slowly, Karen and John realize that the world they know has forever changed. As government evacuations stall, they are forced to talk, at first, solely as a means of survival, taking turns slipping outside of their apartment to scavenge nearby units for supplies. Following one such trip, Karen returns with a cache of illegal narcotics ranging from weed to cocaine and ecstasy.
As they start to take mental breaks from the horror outside, the drugs help build a bridge to new communication, which is furthered by them beginning to train in preparation for any possible breach of their private space by the growing horde of hungry dead.
What distinguishes Tublen’s Zoo from the glut of recent zombie films is his affinity for his characters. We all know a couple like Karen and John; hell, many of us have been these people, stuck in a rut, unable to properly communicate, lost within our own heads.
They’re good people who’ve been dealt a shitty hand, but the pilot light of their love has never gone out. While Zoo is a visceral survival thriller on the surface, its heart remains firmly fixed on Karen and John’s story, which they continue to write and rewrite and imagine through a series of tender, funny and quiet sequences.
The other thing that sets Zoo apart is Tublen’s knack for upending expectations and flipping conventional zombie tropes on their ear. Whether it’s the introduction of a second couple, also struggling to survive, or a brutal home invasion that culminates in a cathartic spray of carnage, Zoo refuses to follow traditional norms. Each new scenario becomes a roller coaster of surprise, keeping the audience on its heels, unsure of what might happen next.
There’s a confidence and a precision on display that you only wish more movies today possessed. The third act, especially, is like an unexpected gift that grips your heart and squeezes every last drop of emotion from your bones.
If you’ve never listened to BVB before, hear us now. Zoo deserves to be at the very top of your Must-See list.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Zoë Tapper is smoking hot.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – Zombie violence.
Drug use – Gratuitous.
Bad Guys/Killers – Zombies.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
13 Graves (Monarch Home Entertainment, 83 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Writer-director John Langridge’s 13 Graves is an interesting mash-up of a hard-boiled British mob drama and a supernatural ghost story.
Two contract killers working for a ruthless femme fatale, Maddy (Terri Dwyer), drive Maddy’s son out to a remote forest that has served them for years as a discreet burial ground for their victims.
They march him into the woods, past the tree where his father, Maddy’s husband, also is buried, another victim of her unbridled ambition.
But once they do their deed, and try to leave the forest, that’s when 13 Graves kicks into high gear as the spirits of all their past victims return to corporeal form to haunt and horrify the typical stoic killers.
Personally, I love seeing a director try something new, even if it doesn’t ultimately manifest into a must-see, top-of-your-list title, and while 13 Graves isn’t an instant cult-classic, it’s creepy, bloody and compelling enough to hold your attention and keep you guessing throughout.
Night of the Creeps: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 90 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): As any lifelong horror fan will tell you, there are certain actors you just gravitate toward, especially those whose careers have spanned decades and include dozens of films across the genre.
For me, Tom Atkins is one of those guys whose mere presence often guarantees that the film you’re about to watch is going to be memorable, if only for his performance.
That’s why it’s so interesting to revisit a film, particularly one that is beloved and that spawned an iconic catchphrase, and realize that what worked more than 30 years ago no longer stacks up as tall when compared to other, better-known characters.
Atkins was, by far, the most well-known name in Fred Dekker’s horror-comedy debut, Night of the Creeps, and his grizzled, perpetually-grumpy detective Ray Cameron became known for two words, “Thrill me,” which he said over and over, every time he answered the phone, entered a new crime scene or approached a group of cops for an update.
By today’s standards, though, Cameron comes off less cool and more out of touch than he did when most fans first watched Night of the Creeps as a teenager.
The film itself – a comedy-horror-sci-fi hybrid about pervasive space slugs who kill and reanimate a host’s body – holds up pretty well, overall, but there are definitely things that catch your eye that maybe didn’t so much back upon its original release.
Personally, I never quite caught on to the overt homo-erotic leanings of one main character, but viewed now, through the wisdom of age and experience, Dekker actually did a nice, surprisingly subtle job exploring the thin line between best friendship and something more.
I also never picked up on the fact that almost every character is named after a prominent 80’s horror director, whether Cronenberg, Landis, Cameron, Miner or the aptly-hyphenated Carpenter-Hooper.
Night of the Creeps remains a cult classic because it found a way to incorporate so many different themes and tropes into one film without the resulting movie feeling disjointed. It definitely shows its age, and some of the humor no longer lands with the same impact, but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
The Dark Side of the Moon
Heroes Shed No Tears
The Green Inferno: Collector’s Edition
American Horror Project Volume 2
Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper: 3-Disc Limited Edition
Now on Video-on-Demand:
End Trip (Terror Films, 85 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Horror, as a genre, always seems to find a way to capitalize on current trends.
Which is why it makes perfect sense that the increasing prominence of ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber might present an excellent opportunity to explore humanity’s darker side.
After all, how many thousands of people every day trust a digital application to secure a ride, and willingly step inside a complete stranger’s vehicle with the expectation that they will arrive safely at their destination?
End Trip, which is co-written, co-starring and directed by Aaron Jay Rome, introduces viewers to Brandon, a ride-share driver in New Orleans who works the night shift, ferrying passengers across the Big Easy.
Brandon is personable and respectful. He seems like a perfectly normal guy. He talks on the phone to a fiancé, cooing sweet affection. He helps a drunk fare make it safely up the stairs to her apartment. And he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a passenger (Dean J. West), who pays him just to drive, for hours, all over town, so he can avoid dealing with a messy situation with a lover with whom he’s had a falling out.
Rome does a good job establishing Brandon as a sympathetic character, which makes it all the more shocking and confusing when we watch him go home at the end of his shift and slide into bed next to a sleeping beauty, only to have her wake in terror as if she’s never seen him before.
Is Brandon not the person we believed? End Trip plays with our expectations and perceptions, but it does so in a confounding manner that often is as confusing as it is sporadically engaging.
I didn’t love End Trip, but a cursory review of IMDb shows that lots of other people seem to have really enjoyed Rome’s effort.
And that’s okay.
If you’ve ever had a fleeting moment of panic once you settled into the back seat of a stranger’s car, End Trip likely will unnerve you by playing on that fear and amplifying it to the worst case scenario.
Scrawl (Wild Eye Releasing, 82 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Scrawl, which was shot in 2015, before its young star Daisy Ridley was introduced to the Star Wars universe as Rey, starts off with a bang.
A girl scout, covered in gore, shambles down a country road. She collapses. And then a car appears out of nowhere, running her over.
From there, however, Scrawl literally sprawls across the screen, introducing a host of main plots and subplots that never properly gel into a cohesive narrative.
The main protagonist is an aspiring comic book artist whose grisly images seem to be coming to life. He lives in a bizarre boarding house populated by school-age peers where the lights are always flickering and some strange goings-on are always going on.
Then there’s the “special” floor, which is never properly explained (at least not up until the point that I made it through) where an old dude injects anyone who stumbles across the hidden entrance with some concoction that turns them into monsters.
Scrawl flip-flops between linear and non-linear storytelling so frequently that it becomes difficult to know exactly what’s real and what’s imagined.
I’m pretty sure Ridley’s character is supposed to be death personified. Yet I’m not sure about the significance of the recurring motif of characters playing hide and seek.
It’s clear that writer-director Peter Hearn is swinging for the fences; I just wish he had taken a bit more time to fully form some of his core ideas in a way that helped the audience better understand what was happening, if only to make the viewing experience less frustrating.