This post was originally published on the Wild Claw Blood Radio blog.
The best thing about Beast Within (2008, directed by Wolf Wolff and Ohmuthi, AKA ) is that it's NOT a remake of the rapey 1982 Philippe Mora movie of the same name. That doesn't mean that it's not derivative, because it is. This is what I call a "one from column A" movie. Its great flash of insight is to wonder what would happen if the birds in Hitchcock's movie were carrying the pathogen for a zombie epidemic. At least it's not so shamelessly unimaginative that it leans on the crutch of a familiar name, but you've seen this all before.
The story follows a group of college kids--German college kids, this time; the movie is German, but mysteriously shot in English--as they return to the ancestral property of their friend, Robert, a med-school student whose grandfather has passed away under mysterious circumstances. His grandfather, Professor Bergen, was conducting research into a virulent strain of the avian flu. The birds in the district are particularly aggressive, too, and soon, they're infecting humans with their disease. Our young heroes soon find themselves besieged in Professor Bergen's mansion as the locals descend on them.
So, yeah. A stock zombie movie with a different kind of disease vector. But it's not without its pleasures. It IS well-shot. That's not something to be discounted, particularly in a sector of filmmaking that is often long on enthusiasm and short on craft and talent. Unfortunately, it's not particularly well-acted. The performances are stilted, probably resulting from shooting in English with a German cast. This stilted-ness is almost a fatal flaw. One character's transformation into a mad scientist, for example, is rendered unintentionally funny given his accent. The movie dawdles a bit with character development, too. It obviously intends slow-burn menace rather than a roller coaster ride, ratcheting up the dread with a careful, deliberate pace. Unfortunately, this particular approach is dependent on its performances. The performances here aren't good enough.
That all said, it mostly provides the goods. There's satisfying zombie gore that utilizes fairly good make-up effects (though there's also some dodgy CGI). I like the way the movie gives the women in the cast the opportunity to bring the lumber. It's a long way from Judith O'Dea's catatonic Barbara in Night of the Living Dead. It also finds some subtext in the notion that real horror lies in watching helplessly while friends and loved-ones succumb to a mysterious and debilitating disease, and of the necessity of putting them down. This is the heart of the zombie archetype, I think, regardless of whatever socio-political readings filmmakers graft on top of it. At a fundamental level, zombie movies are a product of life in the hot zone.