This review first appeared at filmarcade.net.
Zombies are my favorite horror movie monster. There, I said it. My first horror flick was Night of the Living Dead, so those cannibalistic undead shamblers are always gonna have a special place in my heart. That being said, I can absolutely understand the zombie backlash that seems to be growing among the horror community. Zombies are the flavor of the moment. Hell, there’s even a top rated mainstream TV show. It’s the same problem slashers ran into during the late 80’s. During the waning days of golden age of the slasher flick, everyone with a camera, a mask, and some red tinted Karo was making a slasher flick. Like a umpteenth generation VHS, these copies of a copy of a copy were often low quality and hard to watch. Replace the mask and Karo with a bunch of friends and a little greasepaint, and that’s where we are with zombies at the moment. The question when confronted with a new zombie movie had become “does it offer anything new or different.” Sadly, that answer is almost never “yes,” and it’s the same story with Dead Season. Like those late wave slasher flicks, however, if you love the genre, there is still enjoyment to be had from even a tired rehash if it’s good.
Synopsis: When a worldwide viral outbreak leads to a plague of zombies, two survivors flee the chaos of America to a remote island, hoping for a chance to start a new life. What they find is unrelenting horror. Beyond the hordes of the flesh-hungry undead, the other people already on the island force the pair into a fight-or-die battle amongst themselves. Armed only with crude weapons, they must descend to savagery and cutthroat tactics just to make it through each day.
The synopsis goes on from there, but I honestly couldn’t quote this next part without making sure you know that this part is not in my words; Packed with cutting-edge action and insane gore, Dead Season is a riveting new spin on the zombie genre. Um, no. There isn’t anything cutting edge going on here. In fact, the only two sparks of originality in the whole flick are two small details, although admittedly those two details are pretty damn cool. The zombies are referred to as biters. I don’t remember hearing that term before, and I like it. Second, Elvis’s (yes, the main male character is named Elvis) weapon of choice is a sledgehammer. That’s one you don’t see very often. Other than that, there’s not a lot in this flick that we haven’t seen over and over. Tropical island zombies (Zombie, Zombie Holocaust), footage of a scientist dissecting the dead to learn their secrets (Day of the Dead), a quest to a fabled safe zone (about 1000 other zombie flicks.) The character of Kurt Conrad, the leader of the survivalists, is a perfect mesh of Captain Rhodes from Day of the Dead and The Governor from The Walking Dead. ***SPOILER ALERT*** They even use the “survivor couple uses code names and reveal their real manes in a touching moment at the end” motif from Zombieland. *** End Spoilers***
The complete lack of originality doesn’t mean that it’s a bad flick, however. Dead Season has a lot going for it. For the most part, the acting is very good. Our 2 leads, Scott Peat as Elvis and Marissa Merrill as Tweeter, are believable and sympathetic. Marissa Merrill, a relative newcomer, was especially good. She kinda has a Milla Jovovich tough girl thing going on. James C Burns as Kurt Conrad had the perfect commanding screen presence to pull off the role. Interesting story; when he first came on screen, my friend said “It’s the guy from Prison Break” at the exact same moment that I said “It’s the guy from Dinocroc vs. Supergator.” I’m not sure exactly what that says about me. Anyway, the supporting cast is just kindof there. Corsica Wilson especially just looks like a deer in the headlights as Conrad’s daughter. That’s ok though, because the three central performances are strong enough to carry the flick as far as acting goes.
One of the banes of low budget zombie existence is bad CGI and subpar makeup. Dead Season has neither of these. Yes, I did notice an “added in post” blood splat or two, but for the most part the effects and makeup are practical. It’s so refreshing to see latex being ripped in a zombie flick again. The effects are gooey, gross, generally well done, and one of my favorite features of the movie.
I both loved and hated the look of Dead Season. I don’t know what kind of cameras this flick was shot with, but the picture looks great. The color tones are perfect. It definitely has that digital look, but I applaud the filmmakers for not breaking out the mountain of filters too many indie horror flicks put themselves through these days. The island location is excellent too. There are some beautiful, lush landscapes to take in. There is one location that appears to be an old fort or mission or something. Visually, that spot is breathtaking. I wish it had gotten more screen time. So, what do you do to ruin great picture quality and gorgeous scenery? Shake the damn camera like a meth-head hurting for a fix, that’s how!
I had actually thought recently that maybe I should stop bitching so much about third-person shaky cam since it seems like I’m the only one that it really bothers. Then I watched this movie, and I am recommitted to being the lone voice crying out in the wilderness. The camera bobs and weaves constantly, but nowhere is it more infuriating than in the action sequences. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that the camera shakes so bad that there are times when you have absolutely no idea what is going on. Yes, its that bad. It’s a shame too, because, as I mentioned, the zombies and gore look good. Why not let us get a good gander at them? For the love of cinema, get these people some medication for their Restless Cameraman Syndrome!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of other story issues here. At one point Elvis has to do something distasteful for the survival of the group. While it is a major plot point, I wish this part of the story had been focused on more, as it presents a very interesting dichotomy between the living and the undead. The climax of the film is…well…a bit anticlimactic. Those final moments fizzle. The most quizzical issue of all is that, for the entire movie, the zombies are of the shuffling variety. Then, near the end, with no explanation, we suddenly have two 28 Days Later style sprinting zoms. What the hell was that about?
Dead Season isn’t bringing anything novel to the flesh eating party, If you are a hardcore zombie fan who hasn’t tired of the genre, however, you could do a whole lot worse. They need to work out some story kinks and hold the goddamn camera still, but this flick has more brains than your average direct to DVD zom-offering. Some very good acting, the welcome change of practical effects, and an engaging if familiar story make this one of the most watchable of the current cinematic undead glut. It seems there’s still some life left in the corpse yet. A little more than one severed thumb up, but not quite one and a half. Nathan says check it out.