ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction Review
The gore factor saves this film to a certain degree
Zombies of Mass Destruction, not to be confused with the proposed adaptation of the Kevin Grevioux penned comics of the same name, comes from humble roots, having only a meagre budget of just half a million dollars. This, coupled with the fact that the key roles of writer/s and director fall to first timers was always likely to have a knock-on effect. For every smash hit or new face on the cinema scene that blazes a trail out of obscurity, there are a host of others who all too quickly peak at mediocrity and fall back down to earth. The trump card for this film is that it falls into a genre, namely zombie flicks, which not only accepts the over theatrical, ludicrous and downright messy, but sometimes positively demands it. The budget festival fright/splatter scene remains alive and well for all who seek to inject this gruesomely kitsch corner of filmdom with new ideas. As such, debutant director and co-writer Kevin Hamedani (along with fellow scriptwriter Ramon Isao) could make quite a splash with a film bearing the tagline “A political zomedy”.
The first hurdle to be cleared, particularly clear to see for those who rarely dip their toes into the bloody waters of the undead, is the looming shadow of another zom-com that proved a hit with audiences worldwide – Britain’s very own Shaun of the Dead. Hamendani has even admitted to having put his idea on the back burner for several years after seeing Edgar Wright’s and Simon Pegg’s classic. He didn’t however shelve it altogether, and after finishing his stint in further education he came back to his suspended embryonic creation and resurrected it. The twist would shift from a simple comedy (which let’s face it, isn’t actually that novel, Wright and Pegg’s execution of the material was just so much more accomplished than those who’d attempted similar feats before them) to a satire of sorts. Now, coming at this from a British perspective, we’ve all heard the age old jingoisms that Americans have trouble with irony and satire, but the wealth of TV shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report certainly indicate otherwise with regards the latter. So, with the title in place, a twist on the genre and a market that clearly gets satire, the stage was set for Hamendani to reap the comedic rewards.
The first couple of scenes give us a fair idea of what we are going to be in for - a chocolate box town somewhere in nowheresville USA, otherwise known as Prot Gamble, full of smiling faces, nods hello and the usual pleasantries of suburban middle class living. There is no real explanation for the outbreak that starts turning the inhabitants into undead flesh-munchers, but that hardly matters in this type of fodder. The cast of characters follows the usual staple of apocalyptic tales, namely introducing a cross section of stereotypes and leaving the audience to guess which will reach the end unscathed. Central to these is Frida, a young Iranian-American woman who we quickly learn has dropped out of Princeton and is drifting fairly aimlessly back in what the director is keen to point out is a fairly shallow pool of life. It is at this early stage that you may start to hear a few alarm bells ringing. With Hamendani being Iranian-American himself, the worry of a director using his work to put his personal grievances to right starts to loom as an even more worrying shadow than that of the hungry undead. Enter the next key characters – a gay couple, Tom and Lance, heading back to Tom’s hometown in order to tell his aging mother that Tom is in fact gay. To say that this is left-leaning material would be understating the matter. Just about every scenario that could be used to make a point about Middle-America and its skewed values, is rammed home.
Perhaps, in a country that still shows a significant proportion of its residents think that the President is Muslim, Hamendani believes he needs a sledgehammer to get his point across. The problem being that for his intended audience, who will largely be in his corner from the off, this kind of heavy handed approach was not necessary. The whole political aspect of the “zomedy” is so amazingly lacking in subtlety or deftness with the regards of intricate subject matter that it could almost be a double bluff made by Fox News and funded by the Republican party. Everyone with religion is obviously automatically homophobic and parishioners carry guns to church, nobody can tell the difference between Iran and Iraq, or much cares anyway and the mayor of the town is actually called Hal E. Burton. Considering Hamendani is quoted as saying he “wanted it to be funny, but not campy” I fail to see how he intended to integrate such a lack of finesse into anything below the level of ultimate hamminess.
So, if the political aspect is about as cutting edge as a Ben Elton Thatcher joke, what of the comedy? Well I’m afraid that too heads the way of the undead, lumbering in a stultifying manner across the landscape, visible from far off and about as likely to raise a smile. When Tom and Lance go to tell Tom’s mother of her son’s sexuality, after some good old zombie violence and disgusting consequences, the quip of “My father reacted the exact same way” could almost be accompanied by a drummer’s “bad-dum-tish” or canned laughter. What aimed for the hilarity of Seinfeld falls closer to Two and a Half Men in this execution. The problem is not that the ideas are flawed per se, but that they are all tethered so concretely to Hamendani’s world view that as such there is no wiggle room. On paper this sounds perfect to me as I completely agree with him on all the major issues raised, and were these zombified comedic thoughts put into practice by someone with a touch of ability such as a Reiner it would have possibly been perfect, but the result is more of a Party Political Broadcast than a film. By the end of a mere 89 minutes I felt drained because of the sheer torrent of “Right-on” and “put-the-world-to-rights” nature of it all. The very best political comedy finds the middle ground and attacks from there, or if not at least tries to look at the less than easy targets, this feels like it were written by a beret wearing sociology student who happens to think he is the first one to notice how unfair the world is whilst staring wistfully at his poster of Che Guevara. There is nothing new in evangelical Christians not being big fans of homosexuality, but does an entire town have to be shown as inhuman bigots predisposed to torture?
The gore factor saves this film to a certain degree, but in many ways it can leave you wishing as much attention were paid to the script as the effects far out-punch their tiny budget. There is as much spilt blood, nibbled flesh, mindless schlock and gruesome splatter as fans of the genre could want. Machetes slash, knives stab, petrol strimmers ..well…strim and the piece de resistance is a man’s face being peeled off, rolled up like a slice of ham and scoffed by a particularly peckish and delicate eating zombie. The usual array of limbs are torn from their sockets, heads are blasted off and all manner of implements are used to impale the poor old undead. All too often though the gore comes at the cost of being attached to yet another moralistic tirade or characterisation of ignorance, and the fact that quite so many children are forced to attack or kill their parents some may wonder whether Hamendani and/or Isao have a few unresolved parental issues that would be better aired in a different forum than that of cinema.
I have a feeling Hamendani was aiming for the “who are the real zombies?” message, but even though he cites George Romero as a figure he looks up to, he has clearly missed the art of the great zombie maestro’s social commentary – Romero uses craft to integrate it throughout his works and doesn’t resort to painfully basic stereotypes. The post 9/11 allegory and lambasting of the media is apt, but not funny or indeed fresh. Maybe this plays well to an American audience to whom such intolerant towns are an actuality, but I’m afraid from this side of the pond it looks more like a film filled with just as much misplaced hatred as it intends to highlight, masquerading behind postmodernism. You want a film with craft that highlights the flaws of religion? Watch The Life of Brian. Politics? Watch In the Loop. The media’s perception of minorities? Watch Bamboozled. Zombies? Well, there’s only one obvious answer – watch Shaun of the Dead one more time. If you must view this, try to see it through the eyes of someone residing in a country that still teaches creationism in some schools, has straight camps and a supposedly increasing percentage of the populace suspect Obama of being Muslim, and you may be able to forgive its ham-fisted implementation of credible arguments and ideas. Just don’t expect refined or subtle satire.