CODE RED – DVD review

If Robert Rodriguez hadn’t thrown experimental bio-weapon-created zombies at audiences back in 2007 with “Planet Terror,” the plot of “Code Red” would seem more impressive.

But this 2013 action-horror film from Valeri Milev uses the same basic concept.  A bio-chemical weapon is released, zombies are created, and the camera focuses on a small group of people who (like everyone else) are trying to survive. Instead of Josh Brolin, Freddy Rodriguez and Rose McGowan we get former stuntman Paul Logan (“Ballistica,” “Killers”), newcomer Manal El-Feitury, and young Mya-Lecia Naylor (“Cloud Atlas”).

Yet, “Code Red” features a plot that, despite the genre clichés, still manages to entertain on the most basic level. The zombie make-up and blood-spurting effects are just good enough to be grotesquely fun, the main characters are just personable enough to make you care if they get eaten by zombies, and the basic situation is tweaked just enough so the story doesn’t feel totally derivative.

So many zombie movies have been played for laughs lately that it’s almost refreshing to encounter an old-school horror-action film like this. And there’s plenty of what people who love zombie movies pay to see:  dead people turning into pustular-faced zombies, zombies attacking anything that moves, zombies gorging on human flesh, zombies charging en masse, and zombies getting whacked with baseball bats and mowed down with automatic weapons. They’re EVERYWHERE . . . or at least it seems so on an island in Bulgaria that’s home to an eight-story military arsenal with all manner of WWII weaponry inside—including, on the lowest level, gas that Stalin had developed to guarantee Russia would not lose the battle of Stalingrad.

And just to make sure that all the icky, gross, disgustingly violent parts resonate with the audience, the filmmakers make one of the main characters (Naylor) a child, so we can feel the terror and see the horrors from her innocent point of view. What’s more—Somebody call the authorities!—they isolate this kid for a time and throw her right into the midst of the zombies to fend for herself.

Her mom (El-Feitury) is a doctor working on the island who turns whistleblower when a dead person comes alive and starts attacking. The military, of course, want to silence this civilian who’s working for them, but not for the usual conquer-the-world rogue general reasons. Then Logan appears as a Special Forces special investigator. That’s right. He’s doubly special, and as this plays out his character may seem overly familiar, even generic, but he’s still believable enough.

The biggest complaint I have—other than a slapdash ending that disappoints—is that most of the zombie attacks were at night or in darkened interiors, and director Milev opted for a jittery camera for the action sequences, with super-fast pans, tilts, and rolls used in an attempt to ramp up the action. But it made me dizzy. Can’t I just watch a zombie attack without camera tricks that try to make it seem more frenetic than might be possible with straight filming?

The answer, of course, is NO. It is what it is. That will be a deal-breaker for many people, but I have to admit that despite the camera cop-outs, “Code Red” still struck me as a surprisingly decent addition to a subgenre that’s crowded with substandard entries.

“Code Red” has a runtime of 94 minutes and is not rated.

“Code Red,” which is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is deliberately grainy in the opening WWII sequence and zombie attack sequences, so it’s a tough film to rate for visuals. I’ll just call it average to slightly above average in that department and let it go at that. But be aware that another deliberate directorial decision was to desaturate colors so that the film, in that denuded state, seems to lurk in a netherworld between B&W and color.

The audio is a multi-language (English subtitles kick in when needed) Dolby Digital 5.1 with English SDH subtitles. There’s lots a screaming, but it takes gunshots and explosions to add directionality to the sound field and make you appreciate the rear effects speakers.

A brief making-of featurette is included, along with behind-the-scenes clips and outtakes and a “WWII Uncut” feature. “Code Red” comes in a standard size keep-case with a cardboard slipcase.

Bottom line:
As movies go, “Code Red” is probably a 5 out of 10 at best. As zombie movies go, it’s more of a 6 . . . at least until the ending makes you want to chew somebody’s face off. Naw/gnaw . . . it’s gotta be a 5. Maybe I’m jaded from watching so many BAD zombie movies, but I still kind of liked it, no matter what the final score.