Nikolas bemoans the lack of originality in modern Zombie cinema, and preys somebody breathes new life into the dying genre
Revered film critic Roger Ebert once claimed that ‘every film is only as good as its villain’. Whilst this is a sweeping generalization: less dramatic films tend to hinge less on ideological conflict, and films with more accomplished character work delve deeper than the binary black/white morality of traditional ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’, it is still one grounded in truth. Here lies a crippling issue at the core of the zombie genre: how do you craft a compelling story driven by antagonists no more lucid than ill-tempered lobotomy victims?
28 Days Later is successful in this regard by shifting the focus away from zombies and onto the societal disarray following their outbreak. Mayor Henry West (Christopher Eccleston), seemingly the last reasonable authority figure, calls out to the survivors through a radio broadcast claiming to have ‘an answer to the infection’. West’s shroud of solidarity unravels to reveal an inept response to the pandemic and a sinister undercurrent behind summoning the survivors to his military outpost. By exploring whether our designated protectors can pose a more menacing threat to us than those ravaged by a plague, the racing pulse of dread behind this zombie film is rooted in its humanity.
Unfortunately, the following outbreak of the zombie genre has saw films such as the Resident Evil series and Survival of the Dead recycle the able-bodied zombies of 28 Days Later without its attempt at insight about the post-apocalyptic world. Recent zombie films in this vein have turned the zombie into a stale horror gimmick to deflect from the fact that, apart from an occasional mild scare, absolutely nothing new or interesting is being portrayed.
For the utter bastardization of zombie horror and drama, look no further than The Walking Dead. The zombies take a backseat like in 28 Days Later, though only due to the fact that they usually appear only to be outpaced or when a character makes a mind-bogglingly moronic decision such as wandering off alone. Disregarding these benign attempts at horror, what we’re left with is an overwrought mess of two-dimensional ‘characters’, trading histrionic monologues of contrived tension. Only sometimes in a prison. Then on a farm. Then back in a prison because the writers, like the vast majority of recent zombie fiction, are creatively deficient. Broken everyman Rick Grimes’ pronunciation of ‘Carl’, so mangled it contorts the boundaries of phonetics, is a favourite. The ‘Carl’ in question is of course, like the rest of the characters, totally insufferable.
However, The Walking Dead continues to prove a ratings kingpin despite it representing the nadir of modern zombie fiction. With grittiness replaced by melodrama and fantasy horror by implausibility, post-apocalypse has never been so oversaturated yet so unexplored.