August 8, 2009

Autumn: The Movie (Review)


AUTUMN (2009)

Director: Steven Rumbelow

Written by David Moody and Steven Rumbelow

3 / 5 zedheads

*NOTE: This review was originally based on a press screener for which special effects, sound, and final audio mix are not complete. After seeing the finished product, I have upgraded the film to a score of 3 / 5

Given that I didn't like David Moody's novel Autumn [review], I didn't know what to expect of Steven Rumbelow's film adaptation of the book. My reactions are, in the end, mixed. On the one hand, the AUTUMN film raises the story above the book's cripplingly slow pace and monotonous characters. On the other hand, AUTUMN doesn't seem to be able to raise itself above its low budget and technical limitations. There's a good movie trying to break out of AUTUMN, but it's weighed down by an inconsistent style and inconsistent production quality.

In AUTUMN, a fast-moving virus destroys the majority of the world's population. One minute, people are seemingly normal and going about their lives. The next, they're choking and coughing up blood. Then, all are dead but for a handful of survivors. Our core protagonists are Michael (Dexter Fletcher), Carl (Dickon Tolson) and Emma (Lana Kamenov). They're all ordinary people (a teacher, a medical student, and a mechanic) forced to deal with the apocalypse. And things quickly go from bad to worse when some of the dead get back up and start walking again. At first, the dead pose no threat other than disease and the unnerving effect they have on people. They walk but have no real awareness of the world around them. Slowly, however, the dead begin to regain their senses and awareness, and with their returning senses comes a primal rage focused on the survivors.

At its core, AUTUMN is a slow story. Don't go in expecting Zack Synder's Dawn of the Dead action roller coaster. Like the book, AUTUMN moves at more realistic pace considering the people are remarkably average (no firearms experts or super cops here) and the zombies don't become a threat until half way through their "un-lives." Yet, Rumbelow makes some good use of these slow moments. Fletcher and Tolson turn in decent performances. Although the script doesn't exactly sparkle, both men bring some sincere commitment and emotion to their characters and dialogue. In the slow moments when the survivors are just talking, Fletcher and Tolson's work helps offset Kamenov's flat and bored delivery. This movie is also one of David Carradine's last projects, and he doesn't disappoint in his role as Phillip. Carradine turns in a character unlike any he's played before. Slipping seamlessly between lucidity and some form of alcoholic or stress-induced dementia, Carradine's character appears late in the film but does much to breathe some life into a story that frankly beings to lag into the final acts of the film. Unfortunately, none of the characters manage to be interesting enough for me to really say I enjoyed the attempts to create a human element in this story. Although, the human element in the movie is a marked improvement over the novel.

Another example of how AUTUMN kind of works but doesn't really work is in how Rumbelow tries to include more artistic shots and sequences than the film can handle. There is an interesting use of colour that pervades the film (either achieved through lighting or filters) to enhance the mood of each scene when the pacing slows down. Rumbelow has an eye for setting up interesting visual angles and metaphorical scenes (such as the leaf falling in the opening title sequence). However, no matter how hard the movie tries to be something more than just a drama or just a zombie film, it hits a wall of technical limitations created by a low budget and no doubt by a short shooting schedule. I don't think the artistic level of the film Rumbelow was trying to achieve could be done with the effects budget and equipment Renegade Motion Pictures had to make the film.

Aside from the unfinished effects and sound, I can't imagine that further post-production work could clear up the inconsistencies in light between shots, the jarring and inexplicable scene transitions, the point of view violations, the character scenes that don't mesh with the tone of the film (you can't miss the scene with Porno the Clown), the lackluster special effects, and the obvious shortcuts that attempt to make the most out of little.

With that being said, the film's zombie certainly succeeds in making the most out of little. Randy Daudlin and his sfx makeup team do fantastic work on a low budget to create a slimy, blood-caked, decomposing look for the zombies (aka "meat suits"). They really do look like bodies that died choking and spewing fluids and then sat rotting in the sun for a short time. For larger scenes, however, the special makeup effects aren't applied with the same care or quality, but for the most part the zombies look really good. There is one or two genuine creepy scenes featuring zombies.

When all is said and done, what do I think of Steven Rumbelow's adaptation of AUTUMN? In my review of the book, I wrote that the novel, "isn't gory enough for the gore hounds, scary enough for horror fans, dramatic enough for drama fans, or narratively insightful enough for post-apocalypse fans." I think the same is true of the film although the film manages to pick up the pace and make the drama only slightly more interesting.

Perhaps with more time and money and better equipment and supporting actors AUTUMN could have really succeeded. The talent seems to be there behind the scenes. Perhaps the film will feel more coherent and unified after I see the finished product, but I can only review what I've seen so far.

So, until I see the finished product of AUTUMN, I can't really recommend it. Yes, it tries to do something new with the genre, so it may be worth a peek for that and to see David Carradine give one of the more unique performances of his career, but too many technical and budgetary limitations hold this film back from success.

To hear more of my detailed thoughts about AUTUMN, listen to episode #80 of MAIL ORDER ZOMBIE in which I discuss the film with Brother D and Miss Bren.

You can also read my interview with director Steven Rumbelow where he talks about making adapting the film and working with the late, great David Carradine.