September 12, 2011

Walking Among the Dead (Review)

Walking Among the Dead (2010)

Mickey Cardoni
Ionas von Zezschwitz

3 / 5 zedheads

If you embrace the rebel spirit of guerrilla film-making, there are going to be challenges.

Directors Mickey Cardoni and Ionas von Zezschwitz of She-Died Productions found this out while making their super-indie zombie saga Walking Among the Dead. Going forth without permits or permission to shoot their violent film on a MiniDV, they found themselves hunted by the police, questioned, and occasionally arrested. After four years of production on Walking Among the Dead, shot all over Southern Ontario, they've finally finished. And was it worth all the run-ins with the law?

If you're going to go Walking Among the Dead, you're going to get bloody
For the most part, Walking Among the Dead is an achievement in ultra-low budget independent film-making. It's a simple story about a group of survivors attempting to make it to the town of Roanoke while picking up others along the way. Except for a back story about a religious cult, there's not much to the characters, and the movie feels more episodic than theatrical at times. As such, Walking Among the Dead can't hold a handle to films with higher production value, but given what Cardoni and von Zezschwitz had to work with, I'd say that Walking Among the Dead remains an achievement in indie horror film. I won't lie: the makeup effects are cheap, the acting is rough, and the dialogue is preachy, but there's an incredible sense of consistency, continuity, and DIY spirit throughout this film lacking in others of its type. While shooting on the MiniDV gives the film a very digital appearance in which details are washed out, ironically, the creative use of the same camera and the lack of flashy CGI or effects gives the story a surprisingly realistic and raw touch.

Walking Among the Dead won't make you want to blow your brains out like other low-budget stinkers
So what does Walking Among the Dead do well? Namely, gore. Despite its ultra-low budget (which compelled the filmmakers to take liberties with retail return policies to get money back on props), Walking Among the Dead has some excellent blood and gore effects. The zombies in Walking Among the Dead only rise after death. Their bites are not infectious and do not spread a zombie disease. But the undead are still incredibly hungry, so we get to see several scenes of evisceration and gut munching on par or surpassing that of other low-budget zombie efforts.

It's all-you-can-eat in the zombie apocalypse
 Unfortunately, the makeup is not on par with the gore effects. The zombies look terrible and cheap. Without a budget or timetable for advanced makeup or prosthetic appliances, the zombies in Walking Among the Dead are essentially covered in pale grease paint and black smudges around the eyes and cheek bones. They are the worst kind of quick n' dirty Halloween costumes. Some of the hero zombies (ones who get close ups) are given more attention, but most of the zombies look like brain dead mimes. While I understand that shooting guerrilla style neither affords the filmmakers a budget nor time to create more realistic zombies, I can't get over how bad these ghouls look. Zombie films are a haven for low-budget zombie films, but audiences come for the zombies, so if careful attention isn't given to crafting the zombies, everything else looks cheap as a result.

Trick or Treat
George A. Romero got lucky with his low budget Night of the Living Dead because it was shot on film and in black and white. Low-budget digital video is very harsh on bad makeup; it brings out the worst details and tends to distort even good makeup. Film, however, is richer and smoother. Also, colour video is much less forgiving than black and white. Bad makeup becomes even more apparent. Walking Among the Dead might have been able to avoid these problems with a black and white conversion.
There. That takes the edge off.
 Makeup aside, I was more impressed by Mickey Cardoni and Ionas von Zezschwitz's use of real-word spaces as sets. Filming in houses, basements, sewers, storm drains, tunnels, forests, rocky lake shores, and city streets, Cardoni and von Zezschwitz are not afraid to take the zombie apocalypse out of the home and into the real world. Too many low-budget features confine the action to a house or small location because it's easier to manage or light, but Walking Among the Dead takes you on what feels like a very expansive and real journey in the survivor's quest to reach Roanoke. Along the way, actors do their own stunts (some of which looked pretty dangerous). This raw realism held my attention through much of the film's languid points.

A safe haven or a prison?
Speaking of languid, I can't recommend this film for the acting. It's flat, emotionally atonal, and the script suffers the same problem that crippled Romero's Diary of the Dead: it's preachy and ham-fisted. Characters aren't so much characters as they are mouthpieces for espousing different philosophies about humanity and survival. The characters in Walking Among the Dead don't talk like any real person I've ever heard, especially in a crisis situation. Outside of pretentious Grad Students, I've never talked with anyone who waxed this philosophically, as if reading a pre-scripted lecture or from cue cards. I can forgive hiring non-actors or even poorly trained actors, but let them talk like people! Leave the social subtext in the subtext. It becomes less interesting when you pull it out and stick it in the character's mouths.

As you can see, Walking Among the Dead is not a smooth ride. The quality of the visuals and acting is rough and amateurish. At the same time, the scope of the film, the editing, the effects, and the raw, DIY realism are really impressive for a guerrilla production. On The Zed Word, we give 3/5 zedheads to movies that are FLAWED (Worth a look but flawed, or good ideas poorly executed.). Walking Among the Dead is certainly flawed, but it's also interesting. Admittadly, most of my interest comes from the way it was produced as opposed to the story itself, but I still think Walking Among the Dead deserves to be seen if you know what you're in for.

If you are interested in what two talented filmmakers can do with next to no budget and only the barest of resources, then check out Walking Among the Dead. It's far from a perfect film, but it has heart.