The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Zombie Report: The Dead Outside

I recently joined a support group for video addicts with massive piles of unwatched DVDs. The timing was perfect since--after paying-off my beast of a tax bill--staying home and watching videos I’ve already purchased is about all my budget will allow.

As I whittle down the stack, I’ve decided to blog reviews of any zombie films I watch to give you all the benefit of my decades of specialized knowledge.

Here’s the first one:

The Dead Outside (dir: Kerry Anne Mullaney, Mothcatcher Fims, 2009)

I purchased this Region 2, Pal import on the strength of the trailer:


I like the idea of a small, tense character piece set in a rural Scottish farm with only a zombie or two rattling the sheep fence. While Dead Outside delivers on that, it is heavily hampered by budget limitations and an inexperienced crew.

The setup of the film has two refugees talking their way into the barricaded farmhouse of a wary teenage girl. The characters have all done difficult (and maybe horrible) things to get to this point of relative safety and they’re weary, traumatized and potentially infected.

The zombies in the film are referred to as "The Dying"; afflicted with something like a combination of Alzheimer's and schizophrenia. It comes on slowly and it’s difficult to tell if a person is infected or just scared/wounded/irrational. Not much explanation is given for the plague and the film counts on our familiarity with other contemporary zombie films for context (the box even trumpets a quote calling this a “side tale to ’28 Days Later’”).

This is a small budget film with a micro-cast--so they were never going to do a broad canvas apocalypse—but zombie films have creatively worked around this since NOTLD. Dead Outside gives very little sense of the outside world. No radio or TV broadcasts, no cell phone conversations, no stories from survivors of population centers…. I would have appreciated this reversion to primitivism if it felt more earned, but it didn't seem like enough time had passed since the outbreak to warrant a complete collapse of infrastructure (especially since the infected are functional in the early stages).

My real problem with the film though was the cinematography. Nearly every shot is handheld and cocked to the left at precisely 65%. Shots that could have worked framed straight (like the lonely farmhouse silhouetted on the hill) were ruined by this irritating affectation.

To be fair there was one scene where the askew camera worked well (and it was one of the best scare sequences in the film). After a car accident a character is trapped under a titling truck, they’re concussed, fading in and out of consciousness, and see only the muddied feet of the dying. If only the cinematographer had saved his arty angle for moments like this.

Also a few key sequences were so murky and poorly composed that I didn’t know what I was looking at. The culmination of these problems came in a quickly cut action sequence that repeatedly jumped to an equally action-packed flashback; all murky, poorly framed and cocked at 65%. This was an emotional climax of the film and I actually had to dip into the commentary to figure out what happened.

My other (though smaller beef) was with the soundtrack. There are numerous misleading sounds (cat purring, rifle shot, chainsaw) that you think are diagetic (and logically could be) but aren't and are just supposed to be atmospheric. These repeatedly threw me out of the film.

I feel bad writing such a critical review of Dead Outside. Its heart is in the right place, it has some good ideas, and is definitely miles better than most first features. If you're into a quiet and intense--though flawed--zombie evening, it's worth a look when it makes it to Netflix

Outbreak Location: Rural Scotland
Zombification cause: Drug resistant virus
Mobility: Slow and awkward (except when they’re fast)
Rating: Two and a half shambling corpses (out of five) [cute graphic tk]

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