Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is the Zombie Apocalypse Becoming More Conservative?

Eaters (2011)
Directors:Luca Boni & Marco Ristori
Seen @: Carolina Theater, Chapel Hill
Presented by Nevermore Film Fest
Rating: 2/10

It really only took the words "Italian Zombies" to get me interested in Eaters. Italian horror has an enormous legacy, and is responsible for some of my all-time favorite films. I haven't really seen too much that's notable from the Italians since Cemetary Man though. I was anxious to see if this film would re-ignite the remnants of the legacy left behind by the likes of Fulci, Argento, Bava, Deodato, or Lenzi.

Unfortunately, it fails on just about all fronts. A hint of the disappointment to come occurred when "Produced by Uwe Boll" appeared on the screen. (Although, to be fair, I later found out he wasn't involved in any aspects of the film-making process, just the funding.) At first glance, Eaters is just a shoddily made zombie film with rampant CGI and bad editing. However, its true ability to offend runs deeper if you're willing to look. Stuck for 90 minutes with such a well-worn plot, my mind struggled in vain to dig something interesting out of this mess. What I ended up with disturbed me even more.

We follow two main characters, the macho Igor (Alex Lucchesi) and the depressed Alen (Guglielmo Favilla), as they work under the employ of Dr. Gyno (Claudio Marmugi). Gyno (yes, that really is his name) sends the two out to collect bodies for some experiments to determine the nature of the zombie plague, and the two head off on a road trip. As in most road movies, this one is defined by a series of stops, and on each stop we meet a different crazy faction of survivors. If you still think neo-nazis are shocking, then there are some here for you, complete with midget Hitler (sigh). There are the requisite religious fanatics as well, a man who paints with zombie parts, and various other individuals supporting the notion that nobody sane will survive an impending zombie apocalypse.

Eventually, the two stumble upon a teenage girl, and the focus shifts to keeping her safe while getting back to Gyno. When it becomes clear that Gyno intends to use the girl in fertility experiments, Igor and Alen suddenly realize they've been under the employ of a mad scientist and decide he has to be taken out.

Now let's connect the dots: faced with an overabundance of men in the world and few surviving women, Dr. Gyno wants to enable the propagation of species by coming up with a zombie/human hybrid that can reproduce. Igor and Alen, on the other hand, have more "traditional" views of how the species should propagate. Just in case you might miss this, they constantly talk about how much they love women, and in Alen's case, how much he misses his poor wife. When they eventually find out what Gyno is up to, the logical conclusion they come to is that the dude must be blown up. He is up to some unnatural stuff - men should shoot guns, fuck women and make babies, just like God intended.

I think the underlying message all fell into place for me in one of many scenes where our two protagonists drive a car through a poorly green-screened landscape. Igor starts singing along enthusiastically with a Wham! song in the background, then when he realizes his bud is watching, he shuts it off, claiming "I'm not a gay!" (Poorly translated subtitles? You decide.) Apparently zombification isn't the only thing that's catching in the world of this film.

If this is the thematic road that zombie movies now plan to pursue, then please count me out. I'd like to say that it's just an isolated specimen, but I've noticed similar themes of intolerance in the recent French zombie films The Horde and Mutants. In both, white mothers struggle valiantly to preserve their unborn children from a ravenously violent mass of people with an infection that causes their skin to get darker and their eyes to get slantier. It's a shame that this is the social commentary that we get, really, since zombies seem so much better suited to metaphors regarding the danger posed by a mindless majority encroaching upon a persecuted few.

I might be able to overlook this (as I was mostly able to with The Horde) if there were a good movie on top of it. Unfortunately, there isn't.  The story is lackluster, with numerous digressions that serve no purpose but to throw a little gore at you so you'll think you're entertained. The machismo of the two main characters is unpleasant rather than endearing. The final nail in the coffin is that it's ugly. The CG is jarringly amateurish, so much so that it breaks any semblance of mood the film is able to establish. (Watch for reckless green-screen use, and the multiple instances where blood splatters on what seems to be invisible walls.) The editing is also wonky, frequently making nonsensical cuts that occur too quickly and leave you disoriented.

For all the talk of a "zombie renaissance," I've yet to see many good zombie films being released. Eaters certainly does not qualify. Whether this is a desperate cash-in on the trend with some bigotry slipping between the cracks or a deliberate turn toward more conservative themes, it's reprehensible on all fronts.

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