"Undead" is a zombie, horror, comedy, sci-fi, western from Australia that tries to be a cinematic amalgamation of the schlock, pulp fun of "Evil Dead" combined with the guilty pleasure bravado of "Independence Day" by way of early Peter Jackson. Directed by the Spierig Bros. the film is a celebration of kitchen sink filmmaking though it does so with mixed results. It wants to be more than the sum of its parts, a campy cult classic in the making; a status that it will be difficult to achieve due to a tonal inconsistency that keeps the film from being truly great fun.
The film follows the story of a young woman named Rene Chaplin (Felicity Mason), who is preparing to leave the small fishing town of Berkeley after her parents' deaths. She's a reigning regional beauty pageant queen, who is losing her farm to foreclosure due to back money owed to the bank. As Rene leaves town, a mysterious meteor shower rains down and starts a chain of events that changes her life forever. She soon discovers that the meteors carry radioactive contagions that turn anyone they come in contact with into flesh eating zombies.
As with most zombie movies the dead soon begin to rise and turn those they bite, feed on, etc. They over run the town and force Rene to hold up in an abandon farm house, except the farm house isn't abandoned. It's occupied by a loner, survivalist named Marion (Mungo McKay), who's daring feats of gun-fu would make even John Woo laugh at their absurdity. It seems Marion has been preparing for the oncoming zombie infestation/end of the world scenario and has been stock piling food and weapons in an underground shelter. Marion speaks and acts with such a decidedly cryptic air it feels as though he belongs in another movie. The duo is quickly joined by a cowardly constable named Harrison (Dirk Hunter), his partner Molly (Emma Randall) and a bumbling husband named Wayne (Rob Jenkins) and his pregnant wife, Sally Anne (Lisa Cunningham), who lost this year's Fish Queen Pageant to Rene. Inevitably, the six strangers must band together and fight for their survival.
The strange mixture of genre styles doesn't quite come together here. The Spierig Bros. reach high but can't quite sustain a coherency in their vision. There are great parts at work throughout the film. Some of the action scenes are fun an inspired, especially a particularly fun and gory scene inside a convenience store after the mid point. The revelation at the end is fun and interesting, but by the then the film becomes less about the characters and their survival and becomes a plot driven machine, which both helps and hinders the film. It keeps you guessing but in such a way that inspires nothing less than an ambivalent ‘okay, that's different' reaction.
The acting is solid throughout with Felcity Mason providing a good anchor for the film. She is strong and convincing as the lead character and feels like she may have been ripped out of one of Romero's zombie fests. Mungo McKay does a fine job with the part he is given, the problem is that his Marion character is so cryptic and serious that he doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the cast. The rest of the characters, while interesting in their own right, feel like they would be more at home in a film like "Shaun of the Dead", rather than film a that tries to skate between various genre lines.
The film's schizophrenic nature keeps it from achieving a level of pulp entertainment that would appeal to a broader audience. That's not to say everyone will dislike it, some will, but most won't. It's mired by its own need to be different and while this is commendable it doesn't always work. "Undead" is a film that embraces itself enough to warrant a viewing from zombie and gore fans but others should tread with caution.
The video transfer is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is very clear and crisp, although there is some slight pixilation in the darker parts of the film. There is some grain throughout the film but this is an otherwise sharp transfer. Since a good portion of the film takes place at night, the black levels are consistent and the various glows of ambient colors are a pleasure to look at. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
There are four audio options, two of which are feature commentaries. The default audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The audio mix is clean and there is no distortion in any of tracks. Music is never overpowering and everything is leveled nicely. There are no sync problems, considering it is noticeable that a fair portion of the film needed to undergo ADR. Although, a low budget feature, the sound design is great. The film makes good use of the surrounds and often immerses you in its sound mix.
Included on the disc are slew of extras including Crew Commentary with Peter & Michael Spierig; Cinematographer Andrew Strahorn; Make-up artist Steven Boyle. The filmmakers' give a nice insight into the process of making the film, where they discuss various facets of the production including the special effects, acting, budget restraints, casting, rewriting characters thereafter and set illnesses. All four involved get along very well and have a fun banter that makes the listen all the more pleasurable.
Cast Commentary - Mungo McKay (Marion); Dirk Hunter (Harrison); Emma Randall (Molly). There are also a few enjoyable moments in listening to the cast members discuss their experiences working on the film. It's interesting to hear the actors discuss the differences between the original script and the final product they ended up with. For some, this viewing experience was the first final cut of the film they saw.
"The Making of Undead" is a look at the cast and crew and the making of the feature. It details the passion and commitment by everyone who was apart of the film. The featurette follows the brothers from the first day of shooting and various days thereafter, all the way up to the film's first screening.
"Toronto International Film Festival Screening." A brief look at the audience's reaction to the film as the brothers answer questions from eager fans.
"The Zombies" is a brief look at the zombie effects, test shoots and actors who put on all the gore.
"Camera and Make-up tests" is just that, various shots of people in make-up under various lighting and camera conditions.
"Homemade Dolly" shows how they constructed a dolly for the film shoot.
Also included in the extras section are the following: Animatic to Film Comparison, Internet Teaser Trailer, Teaser Trailer, Australian Theatrical Trailer, Five Extended Scenes, Five deleted scenes (including a brief series of action moment), Artwork and Design Sletches, and a preview for "Saw II."
"Undead" will most definitely find an audience with zombie and gore fans but it will be hard pressed to find much outside of this niche. While it doesn't always work, it is an inspired piece of filmmaking that shows the brothers to have great promise. Any film that has zombie fish and a triple barreled shotgun, aliens and some genuine laughs is surely from the minds of some zany and unique individuals.