They Came Back (Les Revenants, The Returned) 2004

Directed and co-written by Robin Campillo (The Class, 2008) and Brigitte Tijou (Riviera, 2005), this quite original piece deals with the returning dead in a way not often seen. The film concentrates on event s through the eyes of the local s of a small town in central France. The opening scenes are of events surrounding the returning as they are being outlined by the Mayor (Victor Garrivier, French Kiss, 1995) of the town as he briefs officials.

It turns out that the returned all came back in roughly a 2 hour window one day. Looking to the dead in detail society quickly sets about learning how to deal with the returned. It seems that those who returned were all dead less than 10 years and present no outwardly physical signs of having been dead. It quickly becomes apparent that the returned are lacking a certain “fire”. One of the officials states that they will never be able to use initiative and should not be given positions of authority, regardless of their previous functions in life.

What we see as the movie progresses is how society copes with these Returned. There are both the larger macro issues of how to house and rehabilitate them. the movie smartly deals with many of the issues we often glance over in such productions, what happens to the dead in the world of the living, can they get their property or old jobs back? How are they fitting in socially and are they being welcomed back by everybody? The central or unifying part of the movie is the city council and how they are dealing with the situation. This is a clever device as it allows us to be told the story exactly as Camillo wants us to hear it, it also allows us an introduction to key characters and how they interact between themselves and the returned.

With this device we see the Mayor coming to terms with the return of his elderly wife. Where the return is generally trouble free there is the issue of here wondering at night. This brings us on to “Mathieu” an architect working in a firm who previously had some significant responsibilities. It is now seen that his abilities are seriously restricted. This is discovered when the psychologist assigned to the returned has a discussion with one of the guards. The returned do not sleep. It seems that they also have no ability to make memories and essentially their communications skills are based on what they had when alive and situational memories which allows them to appear as if they are having on-going conversations.

Things may not be as they seem. The doctors and scientists observing the returned notice certain physical characteristics which allow the returned to be tracked. This tracking leads to some interesting discoveries. What do they do at night? What are the returned planning? Do they feel welcome? Where does all of this lead?

This is not a zombie movie in the traditional sense and there are probably some who would say that the returned are not zombies, whatever! They are re-animated corpses, they are zombies. Not having the movie focused on the usual plot-line of zombies trying to kill the human population is a refreshing change as it allows the many other aspects which are normally over-looked.

This movie is not perfect. It moves at a steady “European” pace which some might feel is slow (which I think, works)  rather than the fast disaster movie action which we are used to with zombie films. This movie concentrates more on the rational and even emotional implications of the return rather than the traditional emergency response approach. The subsequent TV series which was released about 10 years after the movie is significantly different to the film while staying loyal to the original concept of the returned. I liked this movie, possibly because I had read about it and seen the TV series previously so I had an idea of what to expect. I quite liked it. It is a very interesting variation on an well-tried concept.   It is interesting that in the 10 years since its release subsequent zombie movies have not overly tried to repeat this format, rather sticking with the traditional blood-fest approach.

If you claim to be a Sci-fi or Horror fan you need to watch this, if however you are a fan of mindless violence and body party being ripped off/digested then you need to go back to Master Romero’s works.

Dead Snow

By Special request for Stuart 🙂

The great thing about Dead Snow is that it follows the formula necessary for such productions and sticks to it. Possibly one of the most influential Nazi zombie snow movies ever made. You get the gist. When making a movie in a genre that has been hackneyed to death (sorry!) , as you may know,  there is a formula for these movies – an abandoned cottage , or dark basement/castle or some other deserted/creepy place. A handful of students ranging from the sporty to nerd, male and female – you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, in this case we got a group of Norwegian students, up in the mountains, miles away from civilisation and nothing there for them except their cabin. Plans all made for a busy weekend of “studying”. I’m not mentioning what happened in the outhouse, you’ll have to watch for yourselves.
The film was directed and written by Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, 2013) he also gave himself a cameo role as one of the dying zombies.  Our seven heroes are all settled when they have a night visitor, who has a simple warning for them “there’s an evil presence here”.  The first thing you notice when watching is that there’s not much of an original thought here, but it is done well. There’s even a reference to “Friday the 13th”. They learn of the Nazi past  and the missing soldiers believed to have frozen on the mountains. Not long after, we get introduced to our resurrecting zombies, disturbed by the students. In the course of this all the usual happens, they split up, one has to amputate his own arm and so on.
The ensuing zombie chase to kill our Norwegian friends provides us with all the glorious blood splattering, intestine spewing gore expected of such a movie. But it is done so well… There are a few directors  who have managed to perfect this sub-genre (zombie Horror movies), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead 1981) and George Romero (Night of the Living Dead, 1968) are the obvious examples.  Wirkola knew what  he wanted and went for it.
The plot is as it is – holidaying teenagers alone in a cabin discover an evil nasty (in this case Nazi Zombies) and then spend the best part of 90 minutes largely failing to escape them, indeed not only failing to escape but also perhaps failing to survive. There are of course some glaring plot holes, but these are made up for by the one of the students who actually knows his movie trivia and drops in the appropriate one liner when needed, a good  writing move.
It should be pointed out that these are no ordinary zombies, they are Nazi zombies and as such are a determined bunch (either that or hungry), chasing victims up trees (forcing the victim up the tree), of course in her case if she had not being wearing a bright red jacket in snow, or climbed up the only tree with a crow’s nest – the trouble with disturbing crows is that they make noise, al lot of it. Telling them to sush is not very productive or helpful when there is a zombie just below you. On the bright side, when falling off a cliff, their intestines are more than strong enough to catch and hold on to (take note in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation).
You will note that I’m not listing off the world famous Norwegian movie stars who played the hapless victims, being honest, they were fodder, for script and zombies. Some people have damned this movie as derivative and unoriginal, sure, but was it meant to be new and original? I will however credit Ørjan Gamst as Colonel Herzog (who will be in the sequel). This movie is not about Shakespearian monologues, or slow sweeping vistas Ang Lee would be proud of. No  the camera work is rationed, each second of screen time is there for a reason, ala Guilermo del Toro. I’m going to stop on this point right now. Well just adding that in fairness this movie was not done on a huge Hollywood budget, but managed to use its finances well and produce a well-crafted offering. Just because a movie is not big-budget doesn’t mean it has to look cheap and dated.
This movie works quite simply because it is a comedy, designed to put a smile on our faces and not take itself too seriously. That said I’ve developed serious bouts of the giggles at other horror flicks but often because they were so poorly produced, regardless of budget, they were always going to be bad. What makes this movie actually watchable is that it was technically made well, all things considered.
The plot is thinner than the ice they are on and like most things in the frozen Norwegian   mountains, needs time to warm up, but after about the first 15 minutes things get lively with the appearance of the zombie Nazis. Leave your brain in the bedroom, and just sit back and enjoy. Yes,  it is derivative; no,  it is not very original;  but maybe you’ll enjoy it.

There’s not much more you can say about students being chased around a deserted mountain by zombies. Just as Cabin Fever worked because of its satirical approach, this works because of a similar approach, but no so much satire as light-hearted homage to those movies which  went before it.
Three stars – a respectable score, especially given the starting point.