Sunday, October 14, 2012

Couple's Therapy

Tales from the zombie apocalypse are coming from every corner of the globe these days. In truth, I'm a little bit worn out by zombies, so numerous are the movies. The movies seem like the zombie hoard itself: eventually you'll be pulled under. Still, there remain interesting stories being told in the idiom, so I put up with it. (I wish the same think could be said about vampires, but that's another conversation). In any event, Germany provides us with the brief, heartfelt Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2010, directed by Marvin Kren), in which the zombie apocalypse is the backdrop for a bittersweet story of a relationship that's falling apart. It narrows its focus such that the end of the world is distilled down to a more personalized apocalypse.

The story follows the lovelorn Michael, who has returned to the city bearing the keys to his ex-girlfriend's apartment. Michael hopes that this will be an opportunity for reconciliation, but Gabi, his ex, isn't home. The apartment is having some work done by a pair of maintenance workers, one of whom is acting very odd. Frustrated by his work, he suddenly flies into a bloodthirsty rage, insensible to every thought but tearing people apart. The other worker, a kid named Harper, deftly deals with the situation, but not before it attracts the attention of other frothing maniacs. Soon, the two of them find themselves barricaded in Gabi's apartment. Around the courtyard of the building are other residents similarly trapped, including one who offers Michael and Harper food if they'll head next door to get some sedatives from the woman who lives there. The guy with the food has a wife who has been bitten by the maniacs and sedatives will stave off the transformation. Harper and Michael, being particularly ingenious, cobble together a battering ram to knock through the wall and enter the next apartment, only to discover, to their sorrow, that the neighbor lady has turned and that her apartment is open to other victims. Our heroes soon find themselves cornered. Michael manages to make his way to the attic, where he finds Gabi holed up with the man for whom she's dumped him. Harper, for his part, makes an interesting discovery while trapped atop some cabinets, and soon, he has an idea for making an escape...

This is a modest film. It's light on scenes of mayhem, and it has a short running time. Just enough to sketch in the situation and send its varied characters to their doom. It has a pleasantly narrow focus on basically two characters. It doesn't indulge in the kind of Hawksian community building (and demolition) that one often sees in zombie movies, or, rather, it doesn't do much of it. Instead, it examines its two heroes in detail. Michael is kind of schlub, but for all his shortcomings, he's resourceful in the face of chaos and shows grace under pressure. Harper, too, is resourceful, and he has a kind of innocent face that the camera loves. Theo Trebs, who plays Harper, might have a long career ahead of him. I like the romanticism of the movie's ending, in which love kinda conquers all. This is a movie that filters a relationship drama through the lens of genre. It's not Bergman, but it's a movie that's using genre as a metaphor for interpersonal strife. Horror movies have always dabbled in representing externalized id, and this one is more up front about that. One wishes that this film had provided more confrontation between Michael and Gabi, given that their split is the heart of the movie, but perhaps casting it as the apocalypse for both of them says all it needs to say.

All told, it's a curt, professional little film. It is, however, light on the horror. I suppose I'm jaded at this point. As I say, zombie movies are a dime a dozen these days, such that even sitcoms like Spaced and Community can devote whole episodes to variants that are indistinguishable from sincerely intentioned horrors. Zombies have been de-fanged, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor. Is it possible to make a really horrifying zombie movie any more? I think it is. I've seen more than one in the recent past that have managed it. But you're not going to do it without an instinct for the jugular. Efficient storytelling is all well and good and not to be scoffed at in a sub-genre that attracts a lot of amateurs with more enthusiasm than talent, but Rammbock doesn't hurt enough, whether as a gross out or as an existential terror. Part of this is because it ends on such a note of romanticism (and in the movie's defense, this is actually the point). Part of this is the reticent and sparing use of violence. True, it does touch on the despair engendered by the end of the world, but it doesn't make that hurt, either. It telegraphs its darkest plot points, and most of them are the kinds of things that zombie movies have done for years. We're braced for it.

I don't want to take this film too much to task. As I say, it has modest aims and it mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do. And if it doesn't provide me with what I want from a zombie movie or a horror movie? That fault is more in me than it is in the film. Take it as it lies.

Current tally: 11 film

First time viewings: 9

From Around the Web

DeAnna at All Things Perfect and Poisonous discovers the disappointing The Bunker and rediscovers Carpenter's Prince of Darkness.

Eric over at Expelled Grey Matter heads into seventies rural horror with The Town that Dreaded Sundown.

Dr. AC over at Horror 101 offers two varieties of darkness for the weekend.

Tim over at The Other Side takes on the various film versions of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend.

Renee over at Gaming As Women has her second week recap, including her mea culpa for not having seen The Phantom of the Paradise until now.

Stacie Ponder over at Final Girl is doing a different kind of horror celebration with her Shocktober film club postings.

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