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Friday, May 9, 2014

DVD Review: The Zombinator

The title The Zombinator leads you to expect certain things, such as references to other films and a light, playful tone. You might also expect something to do with time travel and robots. I did. But no, there is no time travel aspect, and the Zombinator is not any sort of android.  The DVD cover has to do with the film’s title, but nothing whatsoever to do with the film itself.

The Zombinator, despite its title, is actually quite good for a while. It isn’t until the title character becomes a major force that the film falls apart. It opens with shots a family of three eating breakfast, and a voice off camera asks, “How would you guys describe Joanne?” Joanne is the young woman at the table, the daughter of the other two people. So it’s set up to be a documentary on a woman who is pursuing an interest in fashion.

Early on there are shots of the crew as well, talking about murders in the area. Seems silly, but the filmmakers save it by having Joanne (off screen) ask, “What’s it like outside,” to which one of them responds, “Murdery.” It’s actually a nice, totally believable moment, especially for anyone who has worked on a low-budget film project. And the rest of that scene is kind of delightful, with Joanne saying she’s upset that they’re talking about their next project while they should be working on her story.

And then in the next shot apparently Joanne has adjusted by deciding to become part of that story as well, taking the crew (along with two female friends) to the train tracks where supposedly some murders have occurred. Joanne says “supposably,” and I wonder, is that a character flaw, or an actor flaw? They see blood on a concrete pillar under a bridge. And while Joanne and her friends get ready for a party, the camera crew remains, looking at the blood, the sound guy even licking it on a dare.

The film crew then goes to the party, which is actually a wake for a soldier named Bobby, though Joanne gets a little upset when people talk about Bobby instead of about fashion. But all of this is believable, because of the characters. The tone is not too silly or goofy. Though finally one of the guys, Marcus, does ask about the cameras, then points out, “You guys realize this is a wake, right?” And we’re introduced to The Colonel, the man who brought back Bobby’s ashes (so I guess they cremated him overseas). In a film full of young characters, the Colonel says the dumbest thing thus far: “They talk about the Greatest Generation, but I really believe that this is the greatest generation, and Bobby was a member of that.” And even though Marcus pointed out that it’s a wake, a hard rock band dressed like zombies begins playing, and folks dance.

There is a commotion outside, the sound of gunshots, and then the zombies arrive. So of course there is plenty of jumpy camera work. And we briefly see the Zombinator (a man dressed in a dark coat and sunglasses) shooting zombies. People scatter, and one of the camera men follows Yanna (Diana Sillaots), a really beautiful girl in a furry coat (I would too, even though she’s not the subject of their documentary). Soon everyone regroups at a school, and they begin discussing the situation.

One girl becomes hysterical, saying “I don’t like this, something isn’t right.” It turns out she is upset because she left her pet zebra alone. So there are crazier things than zombies in this film. And in the building they run into another crew, this being a group of paranormal researchers hired by the owner of the building. It’s kind of funny that the paranormal team doesn’t believe the college students about the zombies, an irony not lost on the students.

Because of the hand-held nature of the filming, there are moments when it’s not exactly clear what’s going on, like when one girl, Nina, goes to investigate a sound. And after that, the group scatters again, and again one camera guy follows the blonde in the fur. I like this guy. She runs off with a guy named Scott, and then tells Scott she’s breaking up with him. Scott is understandably shocked, saying, “Get a fucking grip, this is not the time for this shit.” But the camera man must be pleased.

There is, of course, plenty of bad dialogue. Even though there are zombies all over the place, one guy suddenly confesses that during his childhood he was abused by his dad. But it’s when the college students run outside and are rescued by the Zombinator that the film begins to fall apart.

First of all, what happened to the paranormal investigation team? They were a nice touch, a sort of mature voice of reason, so it’s a shame to lose them so early on. But mainly the problem becomes the logistics of the documentary camera crew. Basically at this point the whole idea and conceit of the camera crew ceases to make sense or be the least bit believable. And that’s a shame too, because the film is surprisingly good up to this point.

The Zombinator ushers the college students into the back of a truck. One camera guy and presumably his sound man get in the truck. But the other remains behind, as we get footage of the zombies banging on the truck as it drives away. Wouldn’t they want to stick together? Does each camera man have his own sound person? Well, the camera man who is left behind is never heard from again. So you’d think you’d only get one angle from now on. Not so. By my count, there are at least four different camera men, including the one left behind. That was going to be some fashion documentary.

The truck stops, and the Zombinator yells at everyone to get out. He doesn’t remove his dark glasses, and it’s quite dark outside, so isn’t Corey Hart having trouble seeing? Don’t you want someone with a gun to be able to see well? Anyway, he leads them inside some building. Yanna and Marcus take off, not trusting him. They seem the most sensible at this point (that will soon change). And this time the camera guy doesn’t follow Yanna (perhaps the one who liked her is the one left behind).

At this point it still seems like there are two camera men in the room because we get two angles of everything (though later there will prove to be three). The Zombinator orders everyone up against the wall, except the camera crew, which is odd. But this is a sort of theme throughout the rest of the film. No one bothers about the camera crew. Not the Zombinator, not the zombies, not the Colonel (who turns out to be the villain of the piece). It’s one of the problems inherent in the chosen method of telling this story.

Anyway, the Zombinator tells the students that the zombies are the result of military experiments. “They have a cure, but they will not use it until it gets so big, after Youngstown is gone. And then they’ll present it on the market and make billions.” Scott decides it’s about time to go looking for his girlfriend. The rest babble about what they should or shouldn’t do.

Joanne decides to leave with another guy, and a camera man follows them. Another remains in the room with the others. But the next shot is of Marcus, who is still inside, but no longer with Yanna. Why not? No idea. But this means that a camera man did follow Marcus and Yanna, but stayed with Marcus when they split up. And this is the moment we realize Marcus is actually the stupidest character in the film. He is standing in front of glass doors, looking out at a mass of zombies. Apparently he thinks a couple of the female zombies are cute, so he opens the door. Unfortunately, they all come in, cute ones and not-so-cute ones, and of course kill him. And now the zombies are inside the building. And though there are lots of them, they completely ignore the camera man who is right there.

But hey, Joanne is still alive, so they can finish their fashion documentary later. The Colonel shows up with a few other military people, and they grab Joanne and another guy, who are hiding in the bathroom with a camera man. But they leave the camera man alone. He follows them outside anyway, along with another camera man, and both are allowed total freedom of movement, even later when the Colonel is revealing the plot to the chained-up Zombinator. It seems odd that the Colonel would allow this to be filmed, as he is implicating himself in a heavily illegal plot that has already resulted in several deaths. The Colonel then leaves the room, leaving the Zombinator chained up. So of course the two camera men unchain him. The Colonel didn’t consider that possibility?

Oddly, at this point one of the sound guys quits the project. Why would he leave? Being part of a film crew is the only thing that makes you invulnerable in the world of this story. Everyone leaves you alone to do your thing. I’d want to keep that shield as long as necessary.

Where are the police, by the way? There have been a lot of gunshots, and quite a lot of murders. Aren’t the police the least bit curious about this? And if the Zombinator was in on the project, as the Colonel revealed, and knows there’s a cure, why isn’t he going after the cure instead of killing everyone? The zombie cure isn’t going to help anyone with a gunshot wound in the head or heart. And in fact, he really hasn’t saved anyone.

The documentary conceit is constant trouble. There is a moment where the film crew is following the Zombinator down a flight of stairs. The Zombinator stops right at the bottom of the stairs and engages in a gun battle, keeping the film crew at the top of the stairs. And yet, one camera man is magically downstairs. How did he get there? Was he there already, somehow guessing where the Zombinator would go? It makes no sense whatsoever. And again the Colonel leaves him alone, even as he takes another person hostage (it’s unclear how that woman got there too, come to think of it).

It’s a shame, because as I said, this movie started off surprisingly well. But the filmmakers should have realized that the whole documentary crew conceit was just not going to work.

The DVD includes the film’s trailer, but no other special features. The Zombinator was directed by Sergio Myers, and is scheduled to be released May 13, 2014 through Inception Media Group.

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