zombie

The Last Ones

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A deadly virus has wiped out most of the population. John and Michael have been surviving together since the beginning, finding food and avoiding the creatures that come at night. After months with no sign of another living human, the appearance of a young woman tests their friendship. It soon becomes clear not everything is as it seems.

The Last Ones (previously titled Last Days) is the feature-film debut of writer and director Andrew Jara. At first glance, this film seems like just another zombie apocalypse film. The film opens with John desperately trying to find his family with very unfortunate results. He is left alone in this post-pandemic world with his friend, Michael. The eventually find a daily routine as the months go by with no other living humans to be seen. Yet at night Michael guard their home from the living dead who sometimes stalk the area. Then John runs into a mysterious woman, Karina. Her presence changes the course of the film, bringing some interesting  and unexpected elements into the plot.

In general, the plot is a very interesting one. There are some various twists and turns that deliver something audiences might not expect. Watching The Last Ones, horror fans will likely feel an influence of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. It is a slow burn of a film that gradually builds tension. Like Romero’s work, the plot also focuses much more on the tumultuous relationships between people rather than the undead threat outside. This shows a lot of promise for Jara’s future work.

Yet there are some elements of the film that don’t work quite as well. The beginning of The Last Ones is a bit rough at times. Some of the dialogue is a bit clunky and forced as it attempts to give the audience a bit of exposition. This feeling of clunkiness unfortunately isn’t help much by the performances. Mark Ocegueda plays John in his feature-film debut. His delivery of the dialogue is a bit awkward and void of emotion, but the dialogue and his delivery gradually improves as the film progresses. Marcelle Bowman (The Virus, Refuge) plays Karina. Her performance is adequate and also seems to improve throughout the film. The highlight performance in the film comes from Algernon D’Ammassa (Doc, The Cellar Door) as Michael. Some of his dialogue also feels a bit forced, but D’Ammassa does a great job of conveying an underlying menacing feeling about him.

Along with the overall plot of The Last Ones, the look of the film also appears to be an homage to Night of the Living Dead. The most obvious visual choice that hints to that is the fact that the film is entirely in black and white. This nod to Romero is also a wise decision as a micro-budget horror film. It allows the filmmaker to create the illusion of blood and gore without having to spend too much on practical or CGI effects. There is some minimal prosthetic makeup for the undead that realistically might not be that visually appealing, but the black and white masks it and makes the effects passable. One aspect that surprised me is the well-crafted musical score by Jordon Schranz.

The Last Ones is a classic zombie film with a twist that has its shortcomings, but still shows promise. Considering it is a micro-budget horror film and the first feature film by Jara, it is surprisingly well done. The film gets off to a rough start, from the dialogue to the performances, but gradually improve as the tension build. D’Ammassa is sure to stand out in viewers’ minds as a memorable performance. From the unique take on the zombie subgenre of horror to the homage to Romero, this imperfect film is still worth a watch. It holds my interest enough to make me curious what Jara will do next.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

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The human race is facing extinction. The only one who can save the last remnants of humanity is Alice. She must venture back to where it all began, Racoon City. There she will have to fight in order to end the plague of undead and bring humans back to the top of the food chain. Time is running out. Will Alice be able to defeat the hordes of zombies as well as some of the most powerful foes she has ever faced?

Before I begin, I have to address the elephant in the room. For those who know and love the Resident Evil franchise, you must be familiar with the origin story of Umbrella Corporation and the T-virus. In the second film, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, we meet Dr. Ashwood who created the T-Virus to save his daughter, Angela, from a degenerative disease. The film even spends quite a bit of time on Alice and company trying to rescue Angela. Now, in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the origin story has completely changed. It is still a father who is trying to save his daughter from a rare disease, but the names and time frame have been altered. Even the disease affecting the daughter is different than what we learned in the second film. While I prefer origin story in this film to what we saw in Apocalypse, it seems insane that the filmmakers would make this film as if the second one didn’t exist. Did they expect fans not to notice? That, and the addition of a strange biblical aspect to Dr. Isaacs’ motivation (which was never mentioned in the previous films), left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, we can get into the rest of the film. I love the Resident Evil franchise. The first three films are fantastic. The fourth film is a little all over the place, but still a fun story with lots of excitement. The franchise lost me a little bit once the fifth film, Resident Evil: Retribution, came out. That installment didn’t really have a clear story line, virtually no character development for the new characters, and it felt more like a video game than a film. The Final Chapter started out feeling more like Retribution. I don’t even remember if there was any real dialogue in the first twenty minutes of the film. Aside from learning the new origin story of the T-virus, the beginning was primarily filled with random scenes of Alice fighting the undead and a giant flying creature. Once we got past that and learned Alice’s new mission the story began to take shape. It’s a simple story with a clear goal in mind, but it was filled with action, excitement, and intrigue. The only other issue I encountered with regards to the plot was yet another problem that was also present in Retribution. There was little to no character development with regards to the new group of survivors Alice encounters. Much like in Retribution, the new characters are really only in the film to act as cannon fodder and to make Alice (and the audience) sad when a human dies. It is difficult to feel anything when a character dies if all you really know about them is their name.

When it comes to the acting we all know and love Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Fifth Element) as Alice. Jovovich gave another convincing performance as the constant warrior and martyr of humanity. The real standout performance was that of Iain Glen (Resident Evil: Extinction, Game of Thrones) as Dr. Isaacs. Glen played such an amazing villain. Not only did Glen portray Dr. Isaacs as a man who believes he is righteous in the path he has chosen, but he also showed the audience the doctor’s complete lack of conscious. I was ecstatic the filmmakers brought him back as the ultimate evil for Alice to face at the end of the franchise.

The CGI effects in the Resident Evil films always impress me. They are able to create unique monsters, futuristic technology, and entire cityscapes without it looking laughable. The creature design in this film was very fun. They clearly chose to go bigger and more unique for a lot of the T-virus monsters which added to the scares and thrills. Even the large CGI zombie hordes looked well done. While I knew the things on the screen were all done by computers, there was never a moment where I was consciously thinking that it was computer generated or that it was done poorly.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was a fitting end to the franchise filled with action, intrigue, and of course zombies. Sadly it is a flawed film, primarily due to the sudden change in origin stories and the lack of character development. As I said earlier, I preferred the origin story created in The Final Chapter. It made for a more impactful story and a more powerful ending. I just can’t ignore that we were already given the origin story, although it seemed like that was exactly what the filmmakers wanted the audience to do. If you haven’t seen Resident Evil: Apocalypse, then don’t see it before watching The Final Chapter. It sounds odd, but you will likely enjoy the film more by avoiding the conflicting origins of the T-virus. If you have seen Apocalypse, I will warn you that you may leave the theater a bit frustrated by the last film of the Resident Evil franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

Train to Busan

A father who works too much barely knows or spends time with his daughter. For her birthday all she wants is to go stay with her mother in Busan. The father reluctantly agrees to take her in order to make amends for his lack of presence in her life. Soon after the train leaves the station an infected person spreads a zombie virus throughout the train. The survivors must try to get to a safe station to escape from the zombies on board, as well as to avoid the rapid spread of the virus happening across the country.

Train to Busan is a very well done zombie film. The main thing I look for in a zombie film is not only that it is exciting and gory, but that it shows the truth about human nature. This film does an excellent job of showing that humans are the worst monsters during the zombie outbreak. There is a dynamic group of characters that demonstrate the many sides of human nature. Some sides are good, some are borderline evil. The characters are also very well developed. Especially when looking at the father and daughter, the audience is quickly captivated by their relationship and rooting for them to survive through these horrific events. It is also fascinating to watch their relationship develop, and how the father develops as a person, as they ford their way through the zombie outbreak.

Having a grasp of social issues can’t be the only successful aspect of a great zombie film. There has to be a lot of action as well. As if zombie films aren’t already intense and exciting, this film ramps up the sense of urgency by having the film set on a train. The claustrophobic feeling, coupled with the fear of zombies and infection, makes for an adrenaline filled two hours. The filmmakers decided to go with swift moving zombies, which works well for this film. Fast zombies in an enclosed space definitely makes for some cringe-worthy scenes.

There are so many standout performances in this film that it is hard to narrow down. Since the film focuses primarily on the story of the father and daughter, I will highlight their performances. Yoo Gong (The Age of Shadows) portrays the father, Seok Woo. Not only does Gong do an excellent job, but his character also has one of the more compelling story arcs. With the help of his daughter Seok Woo goes from being an absentee father, to a man who will go through anyone to protect his daughter, to a good person who realizes he must try to save everyone. It is a fascinating and realistic progression that Yoo Gong brings to life. Soo-An Kim (Mad Bad Sad) is phenomenal as the daughter, also named Soo-An. She is clearly the heart of this film and shows the good that can come out of stressful situations. She is meant to shine as the exact opposite of the evil parts of human nature, and Soo-An Kim shows us that in spades. She is another example of the many great child actors that have come out of the woodwork this year.

The look of the zombies in this film is really unsettling (in the best way). The zombies have black veining, their eyes are whited out, and they move in exceedingly creepy ways. The zombies do a lot of jerking movements and arch their backs in inhuman ways. These are also very fast and strong zombies. Once they catch sight of you, you better run. While most of the scenes on the train are of human actors with zombie makeup and contorted bodies, many of the wider shots outside the train utilize CGI. I understand why CGI was used for many of the scenes where hordes of zombies are falling all over each other and falling out of windows. That would take a lot of stunt work and insurance policies to achieve with real actors. It unfortunately also takes away from the realism that is felt throughout most of the film. The CGI made it nearly impossible not to draw a connection to the zombies from World War Z, although I can say that Train to Busan far surpasses that film.

Train to Busan is a thrilling and gory zombie flick with a lot of heart. I’m not afraid to admit that it even made me cry. There are honestly very few things I can say about the film that are negative, aside from the bit of CGI use. It is exciting, scary, intense, bloody, and it brings up the many sides of human nature. The more social/political aspects of the film even feel reminiscent of the older Romero zombie films. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you gasp, and it will make you cringe. This is one of the better zombie films of the past decade.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10