November 25, 2010

The Horde (REVIEW)

The Horde (2009)
(aka. La Horde)

Directors: Yannick Dahan
and Benjamin Rocher

4.5 / 5 zedheads


Ever since Night of the Living Dead, zombies have been routinely used as narrative and thematic devices to highlight humanity's predisposition toward inhumanity. Not only are zombies grotesque caricatures of the human condition, but the threat they pose brings out our most self-destructive tendencies: selfishness, violence, corruption, sexism, and racism. While the zombies in the French film The Horde are certainly bloodier, faster, and more feral than those in Romero's Night of the Living Dead, The Horde successfully delivers a fast-paced and action-packed zombie thriller while staying true to Night's spirit: a bleak look at petty humanity in times of social collapse.

A dental hygienist's nightmare
When the film begins, the line between hero and villain is already blurred. A quartet of masked gunmen infiltrate a rundown high rise tower block to take revenge on a gang of criminals led by a Nigerian-born gangster named Adewale (Eriq Ebouaney). Are these masked gunmen a rival gang  fighting over turf, money, and drugs? Not quite. These masked killers are actually cops. Lead by Ouessem (Jean-Pierre Martins), these rogue officers aim to take down Adewale for his gang's murder of a fellow cop. Ouessem has made a solemn promise to the dead's family to take justice into their own hands even if it means creating a blood bath. As this war between corrupt cops and cold-hearted murderers goes sour with deaths on both sides, the world around them suddenly and violently goes to shit. The dead are returning to life as savage, flesh-hungry creatures! The cops and the gangsters must put aside their bloody feud and form an uneasy alliance to survive the onslaught of a fast and powerful undead horde.  

This is what it looks like when zombies go to the petting zoo.
Along the way, both sides crack under the pressure and make fatal mistakes. They forge unexpected and troublesome new partnerships, turn on one another, and succumb to panic and petty power struggles. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends, and all become meat to be shredded between the hungry jaws of the horde. The Horde is primarily an action film following a team of survivors as they fight their way through crowds of zombies. What excites me more than this surface action is the sub-textual action and interplay between the characters. The Horde, like Night of the Living Dead, focuses on how different characters react to pressure and danger. There is some really great character development happening throughout the film that unravels subtlety and alongside the gore and gun play without distracting from it. You certainly won't find The Horde in the drama section of any video store, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of character drama to sink your teeth into. In particular, there's a great scene where Adewale admonishes his brother Boa (Doudou Masta) for abusing and threatening rape on an incapacitated female zombie. Adewale, who has proven to be a cold-hearted killer, nevertheless expresses a surprisingly moral streak when he chastises his brother for abusing the zombie; Boa has forgotten that he and his family were similarly abused in Nigeria during the cycles of political and religious violence that plague the region. This exchange is a convincing and subtle character moment. Moments like this, delivered with an acute sense of timing and drama, raise The Horde above other mindless zombie action movies.

"Are you ready to rock? I said, ARE YOU READY TO ROCK!"
The Horde is also visually impressive. Yes, the use of CGI blood spurts gets quite annoying by the end of the film, but The Horde makes up for it by featuring a literal horde of zombies. There are several sequences that are shocking and claustrophobic just based on the number of zombies filling the shot. Unlike many zombie films today that look like they were shot in someone's back yard with a handful of friends, The Horde brings together an impressive and athletic cast of zombies to swarm the screen. In one fantastic sequence, a parking garage is filled wall-to-wall with zombies, and a character is swallowed up in a sea of their hungry hands and mouths. It looks like colony of ants swarming over a morsel of food. The shot is breathtaking and reminds me of what makes zombies truly scary. It's not how fast they run or how decomposed they look, it's their sheer and overwhelming numbers. Not since Evil in the Time of Heroes (review) have I seen such an impressive cinematic horde. The Horde's certainly earns its title.

Although she speaks French, that look clearly says, "I mean business."
There's plenty of blood, gun play, and just enough flesh-feasting to satisfy horror and action fans. If like me, however, you also enjoy seeing how characters unravel under pressure and turn on each other, just as the dead have turned on the living, then make The Horde your next movie to watch. From start to finish, The Horde is a tight, exciting, and impressive example of popular modern zombie storytelling with a message about humanity. It drives its message home in the final scene: the character who has given up the most humanity is the last to survive.

If we abandon our humanity, then what's left of us but ceaselessly gnashing maw of the horde?