You know you’re at a unique film festival when the festival director kicks things off by having the audience chant: What do we want? Brains! When do we want them? NOW!
But that’s just a regular Saturday night at Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Saturday night was TADFF’s annual tribute to everyone’s favorite undead creatures — zombies. Dubbed Zombie Appreciation Night, the evening features full and short length zombie films from Canada and beyond. Audience members were invited to dress up as the undead in return for ½ off ticket prices, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. There were many of your standard Romero slow-walking zombies in the crowd, but creativity was clearly flourishing on Saturday. A group of zombie mimes welcomed people at the doors (in case you were wondering, being undead definitely makes mimes creepier) and one gentleman was dressed as a zombie bicyclist right down to the spandex jumpsuit leaving nothing to the imagination. The result was that the Bloor Theatre was transformed from a cinema into a strange zombie carnival.
But the real question is: how were the films? In short, they were an entertaining bunch, though that may have been thanks to such an enthusiastic crowds. First up was British film “Doghouse” a “lad film” as described by festival director Adam Lopez, which is British for a comedy film about a bunch of bros. In “Doghouse,” Vince, played by Stephen Graham, has just been dumped by his wife and is now in search of his missing masculinity. A group of his friends take up the cause and take him to an isolated village in the English countryside for a weekend of beer, babes, and being manly. But their best laid plans go awry when they discover all the women in the town have been transformed into zombie-esque mutants bent on literally devouring any breathing male they can find.
This comedy is more in the vein of “The Hangover” than it is of fellow British zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” and I could certainly see it being remade for American audiences. Its humor was just a notch above toilet humor, and there were some ingenious bits. Without giving too much away, a scene in which the now split up group-one half in a women’s clothing shop, the other in a toy store-attempt to get past the zombies using only what they had in each respective store was very cleverly set-up and humorously executed.
But for all its humor, the central premise of the film-women zombies as a metaphor for how the men view the women in their own lives-gave me cause to pause. The idea isn’t an inherently bad one; if executed well it could be a fun poke at gender stereotypes. This film didn’t poke, it rammed the message home that these men were going to be men, and that they were tired of women telling them what to do. Characters referred to the zombies as “feminist b****es” and Danny Dyer’s character Neil, a womanizer, continued to ogle women EVEN AS THEY WERE UNDEAD. At times it bordered uncomfortably on straight-up misogyny. I think director Jake West would have benefited greatly from taking a page out of Apatow’s book. Apatow is no paragon of feminist filmmaking; however the films he directs and produces are more accessible to both genders, for the most part because their male leads very often have no pretense about their masculinity, or the resolution or their narrative arc comes to a close by accepting their own shortcomings. If anything the characters in “Doghouse” are simply rewarded for outdoing each other to be the most masculine while the weaker characters fall by the wayside. It left me rather cold on the film, which was disappointing given some of the stronger points of the movie.
As for the second film, make no mistake about it the Greek film “Evil in a Time of Heroes” is a bad movie. Really bad. If Tommy Wiseau had a bigger budget this would be the zombie film he would make. Set simultaneously in Ancient Greece and modern day Athens, the film is about a group of survivors of a mystical zombiepocalypse trying to stay alive. The film reveals that the same thing happened in ancient Greece, but a chosen “one” was able to drive back the zombie hordes. The film may have worked if one of the characters had been relatable, but at best they are tolerable. The worst of the bunch is the main character, a puerile man-child who stalks one of the female characters even cutting off a lock of her hair to keep.
But even better characters couldn’t have saved the gaping problems with the script. It’s filled with corny dialogue and embarrassing plot points. Several characters die and then come back to life with other characters barely batting an eye, and the film is filled with bizarre exchanges. Take, for example, the opening of the film. A group of Greek warriors sit around a campfire telling jokes about, of all things, ketchup. I think the director, Yorgos Noussais, was attempting a Tarantino approach to aimless banter but he lacks the finesse that so defines Tarantino.
But the strangest of all is the inclusion of actor Billy Zane as the Prophet, a mystic who serves to relay the message that main character is the “one” who can defeat the hordes of the undead. According to festival director Lopez, the filmmakers only had one day to shoot Zane’s scenes, so they used that day to get in every shot they possibly could. The result is that Zane shows up at random intervals throughout the film, sometimes with no connection to the scene before it. He does get to get in on the zombie killing action, to great effect, but he has less than 10 lines total and those he does have make no sense and barely have an impact on what little story the film has.
But for all its bad points, “Evil in a Time of Heroes” does have its moments. A truly funny scene that involves a soccer stadium and hundreds of zombie extras was one of the high points. And thanks to a lively audience, this mediocre film became an entertaining one. Theatre-goers were encouraged to yell out “ZAAAANE” whenever Zane intermediately appeared on screen, and the crowd was happy to oblige to this request. All manner of insults were hurled at the screen during the film, and in one serendipitous moment of unplanned hilarity, a fellow theatre-goer had myself and my row holding in fits of giggles as he slumbered and snored loudly through one of the quietest parts of the film. “Evil in a Time of Heroes” falls squarely into the category of films that are so bad, its great. I wouldn’t advise seeing this movie without a loud, large group of film junkies, preferably attired as the undead.
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