Judge Mike Rubino will never use the word "zomedy."
"A Political Zomedy"
Zombies of Mass Destruction is the only political zombie comedy you'll need to see this year, just don't expect your brains to be intact when you're finished.
Facts of the Case
Port Gamble is a small island off the coast of Washington State. It's a humble American town unable to deal with change. That means that when an Iranian family, a couple of gay guys, and a female mayoral candidate all get together…a zombie outbreak inexplicably follows.
ZMD is released as part of Lion Gate's "After Dark Horrorfest 4" film series.
It's not often you see a period piece in the zombie sub-genre, and yet Zombies of Mass Destruction is daring enough to transport us all the way back to 2003. At first glance a seven year flashback may seem a little unnecessary, but not after you realize it's needed so that the filmmakers can craft a biting political satire that would have been relevant…seven years ago.
I'm not even sure this would have been biting satire seven years ago. While just about every well regarded zombie movie has socio-political satire as its foundation, few flaunt it front and center like ZMD. The social commentary here isn't just tardy, it's filled with achingly predictable humor. This all amounts to a film that feels dated right out of the gate.
ZMD sticks faithfully to the Romero story structure: first you introduce a bunch of characters, each in his or her own little subplot; then unleash the zombies, slowly at first and then flood the place with them; throw in a couple of crazy humans so that we can draw a comparison between Us and Them; bring all of the folks together so that they can combine their resources; and finally let the government take over. Everything you come to expect from the zombie genre is here.
So much of the film has been compromised for the sake of political satire that none of the characters come across as anything but archetypes. Frida (Janette Armand), the Iranian-American girl whom everyone thinks is Iraqi, is the closest to being an actual three-dimensional character. She has returned to Port Gamble after dropping out of Princeton and is faced with the depressing prospect of taking over the family business from her Iranian father. She just wants everyone to treat her like the American she is, but when the zombie outbreak is loosely linked to Islamic terrorists (See? It's satire!) she's accused of being somehow involved.
Frida spends much of the film alone, running from a redneck Canadian-American bent on torturing her, but she does eventually join her "ragtag band of rebels." That would include Tom and Lance (Doug Fahl and Cooper Hopkins), two New Yorkers who return to the island so that Doug can "come out" to his mother. Of course, they're up against a tidal wave of homophobic crazies, including a generic evangelical pastor who tries to "cure" the boys by hooking them up to an I.V. and showing them '50s film reels. The fourth protagonist, Cheryl (Cornelia Moore), is a free-spirited school teacher who has decided to challenge the town's long-time mayor in the upcoming election. She doesn't get any meaningful screentime until the end of the second act, when she stands up for Tom and Lance against pastor's religious mob. Not that any of these subplots matter; they're merely there to pad out the running time of the film, since the zombies don't bring their A-game until the 30 minute mark.
Once the zombie outbreak hits, ZMD improves slightly. You don't have to sit through terrible acting and unfunny dialogue about social issues, and can instead focus on trying to decipher the poorly lit action sequences. Director Kevin Hamedani does an adequate job stretching his tiny budget to create a decimated Port Gamble, but almost all of the exterior night shots are too dark to be appreciated. There are a handful of good zombie kills (including some sweet weed wacker action), and the latest zombie trend of people having perforated limbs and necks is quite prevalent—one dude gets an arm torn off as easily as pulling cotton candy. The film does have some really impressive make-up and gore, so for genre fans that may be enough of a reason to check this out.
ZMD is low-budget all around, but unlike the similarly cheap Dead Snow it doesn't have the wit or story to gloss over monetary shortcomings. Instead, hot-button issues from seven years ago rise from their graves and stalk the night, smelling as stale as ever.
The film is especially unremarkable in the audio/video department. The transfer is very dark, with many of the exterior night scenes devolving into an undefined, murky mess. The audio is average, until Frida screams and the levels go off the charts. It hurt my ears and my speakers. The movie does have a pretty decent synth soundtrack, reminiscent of Goblin's work on Dawn of the Dead.
The only special feature on the set is a brief making-of documentary that explores the political themes behind the movie and how it was a reaction to the way director Hamedani was treated living in America after 9/11.
There have been plenty of zom-coms over the past year or two that do a great job of dissecting the genre and its various idiosyncrasies (or "idiosyncrazies"). ZMD tries to take that touch-in-cheek approach and apply it to a political satire about American xenophobia leading into the Iraq War in 2003. Unless you're still really angry about the first term of the previous administration and are craving some undead vindication in the form of some very basic satire, only the most die hard of genre fans need apply.
Guilty of moldy satire.
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