Directed By Zack Snyder
Starring – Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera
The Plot – Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, gore and adult language throughout, some sexual content and brief nudity/graphic nudity
– One man army. In being a film that is written, produced, shot, and directed by Zack Snyder, he’s able to exploit the unique personality for his vision that serves the movie’s tonal capacity terrifically. No one cohesively juggles the elements of horror and comedy quite like Snyder, incorporating a collection of top 40 favorites performed in a showtune capacity that not only serves as artistic representation for the movie’s setting, but also produces a satisfying levity to the film’s gruesome imagery that surprisingly word hand in hand with one another. Beyond this, it’s the stakes and scale that Zack instills to the movie’s overall presentation, which further helps to transcend the movie’s small scale Netflix roots to a big screen presence in aesthetics consistently. Because this is a movie shot on the Vegas strip, there’s personality for Vegas seen in every shot, and when combined with Snyder’s effervescent candy coated coloring permeating from the luster of lights surrounding our ensemble, we’re treated to a three-dimensional experience that is all the easier to immerse ourselves in because of the fan for these films who grew up to be a mesmerizing guru in the style he stitches to any film.
– Diverse originality. Even with zombie films oversaturating the market from their 21st century comeback, which did ironically begin with Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead”, there’s a fresh perspective and framing device from this particular offering that inspires the next step in zombie evolution, all the while incorporating some elements within the screenplay that justify its place among the hoard. For starters, this is anything but a post-apocalyptic movie, instead existing within a world where only Las Vegas has been shut off from the rest of the world, instead of a desolate rendering of a limited population. This allows the movie to persist with an air of hope not seen in other zombie epics, all the while preserving an urgency for this film that doesn’t soil because of the elements of hope within the previously mentioned. In addition to this, in incorporating a heist story at the forefront of the movie’s plot, it turns the inhuman antagonists into a product of the environment instead of the essential conflict. This not only allows them to come and go with stark reminder in a series of justified jump scares, but also gives meaning to why the protagonists would ever immerse themselves in an environment that is otherwise cut off from the rest of society. Finally, the attention to the lore of the zombies themselves is something that I found most intriguing to the plot, especially the evolution of which that has since allowed them to forge their own kingdom, complete with a king and queen with their own respective arc’s to the movie’s plot.
– Production value. Netflix afforded Snyder 90 million dollars to make this film, and while that does initially sound like a lot of money for a zombie thriller, it’s peanuts in comparison to some of Netflix other forgettable efforts (Talking to you, “Bright”). Where it works for Snyder, however, is in leaving every dollar figuratively (And sometimes quite literally) on the screen, but especially in its abundance of special effects that it unloads throughout. Most of the character designs are done with detailed and diverse practical make-up and prosthetics that never runs together between any two zombie’s, allowing a natural aging in decomposition that is fairly evident in these long take sequences involving facial registry. Likewise, the design and direction of a computer generated tiger moves and pounces with the kind of depth for believability that I honestly wasn’t expecting, and the occasional green screen backdrops blend in beautifully with the movie’s tremendous color correction.
– Endearing characterization. Without the necessity of a collection of scenes dedicated to their rendering, the cast of characters in this film, good and evil, solidified my favorite ensemble in a film in 2021, and made for stakes that I truly felt each time one of them falls prey to the odds that they couldn’t outrun. Snyder fleshes out each of them in a way that gives meaning and personality to their value to the film, making this feel like a legitimate ensemble piece instead of one with an obvious protagonist who will be protected because of their top billing. This not only creates an occasionally profound dose of unpredictability along the series of conflicts, but also gives this intimate prize for eight characters a universal captivation that hangs in the balance once we invest in each of them fruitfully. What’s most surprising is the previously mentioned attention to the zombie’s kingdom, which we’re often not privy towards as audience members engaging in a zombie film. Snyder does this to balance psychology between both sides, which in turn pulls towards a humanity in the undead that often isn’t a factor in films that quite literally ignore or dismiss their cultural evolution in any environment.
– Carnage candy. You better believe that Snyder isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when it comes to devastating gore that candidly earns its desired R-rating. Whether in the skin-peeling twists of a literal zombie tug of war, or the echoing symphony of a barrage of bullets sprung from an army of arsenal, these intense sequences vividly convey anxiety and intensity in the mix of every sequence, and when combined with a riveting editing scheme that isn’t choppy or diminishing in terms of what is conveyed, solidifies horror as the most expressive genre in mainstream cinema. Snyder competently toes a line of exploitative horror that somehow maintains meaning in the variety of violence that he gleefully unloads, all the while refusing to cater in a way that oversaturates the sharpness of the product. Because of such, it gives us violence, but in a way that patiently builds bigger each time, until it unloads in a third act climax where all of the rules and the body count go dramatically out the window.
– Career best. This section is reserved solely for Dave Bautista, who when steered by Snyder turns in the single best performance of his entirely impressive career. In undertaking Scott Ward, the movie’s primary protagonist, Bautista is able to take his career to uncharted territory, bottling an emotional intensity and evidential vulnerability for the character that proves he is anything but a body, in terms of what he brings to the table. Aside from Scott feeling more fleshed out than typical zombie protagonists rightfully do, there’s an energy for intensity in Dave that works terrifically for sequences of physicality, playing into the pulse-setting rapture of seamless fight choreography that bottles the psychology as much for the character as the aforementioned emotional pallet that he wears on his sleeve continuously throughout. Roles like these open more doors for the former wrestler turned actor, and allow us to see him as a cinematic heavyweight who shouldn’t be judged on the stereotypes that wrestler’s are often viewed as in Hollywood.
– Breaking conventions. Part of what I admire about Snyder’s concepts for the film, as well as those that he unloaded on 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead”, is the trail blazing originality for the genre that respects its predecessors without needing to piggy back on their general outlines. For this film, that comes from the pageantry in spectacle that makes this feel bigger and bolder than any other zombie film I’ve ever seen, but beyond that also springs from an anything-can-happen atmosphere that Snyder devilishly devices to solidify his own identity from within. Decisions like the speed and designs of the zombies themselves are sure to alienate some moviegoers with their own preconceived notions of what the undead should represent, but to me they consistently represent an evolution for identity that serves each of them as being products of their environment. As for the speed, I feel it better bottles the intensity and urgency of the sequences accordingly, especially in this film where the human protagonists have an advantage in weaponry and overall tactics. Snyder, like his undead, evolves the genre accordingly in ways that breathes life back into it for the first time in years, and because of such stitches together an unpredictably vicious vanity project that returns him to the scene of where his career first sprung, seventeen years ago.
– Overly ambitious. Once again, this is another overstuffed narrative to a Snyder film that occasionally juggles conflict with the movie’s overall pacing. While he vividly details the backstories of the characters, the lore of the kingdom, and the social commentary of the world they both now live in, the desire to make this 148 minute epic is one that I couldn’t fully justify by the film’s end, and one that I wish would’ve trimmed around twenty-five minutes of so in the finished product to keep our attention firmly encompassed. The second and third acts are near perfect for me, matching a consistency for intensity that constantly keeps the audience on its toes while unraveling this heist before our very eyes. However, it’s in the long-winded backstories and movement of the conflict within the first act that is most noticeably bare when compared to the other previously mentioned two acts, especially considering it’s almost an hour into the film before our crew even reach their destination. For my money, I would’ve kept the backstories, as I feel they’re pivotal to each character, but I would’ve trimmed them in a way that could’ve bottled each in a musical montage to keep the urgency of the narrative firmly in tact.
– Logical inconsistencies. There was some disdain within the rules established in the film and with the zombie’s that didn’t always sync up accordingly, and led to a few instances where the suspension of disbelief had to be made tremendously in my investment to the film. This isn’t a surprise in the least with a zombie movie, but when the suspension starts to cut into the things that I was taught by the film itself, I can’t help but shrug at the disbelief. Without spoiling anything, I will say that one character survives entirely too long after being bit. Considering we saw a couple of characters turn almost instantly with their bites, the amount of time for this particular character was far too long in only obviously serving the convenience of the narrative. In addition to this, the zombies keep a couple of characters hostage for no reason than the human protagonists are looking for them. What advantage does this serve for the zombies? Wouldn’t they just be tonight’s dinner?
My Grade: 8/10 or B+