June 25, 2012



Humans vs. Zombies (2011)

Director: Brian T. Jaynes


2.5 / 5 zedheads

As if Battleship wasn't proof enough that games don't make for good movie material, here comes Humans vs. Zombies to DVD.

Loosely inspired by the game of the same name that became very popular on college campuses, Humans vs. Zombies proves to be a hard movie to digest. I know what to do with a great zombie movie, and I know how to handle a horrible zombie movie, but what do I do with a bad zombie movie with a good zombie movie locked inside it?

Dude, I got so hammered last night
In Humans vs. Zombies, an engineered zombie virus known as H1Z1 escapes the control of American government scientists. Two college students on summer vacation are infected. Returning to town, they infect their fellow classmates and eventually the entire town, turning them into fast-moving flesh-eaters. In this all-too-familiar scenario, we follow a group of students including the campus moderator for Humans vs. Zombies (Jonah Priour), his love interest (Melissa Carnell), a bitchy gamer girl (Dora Madison Burge), and their other friends who join up with a conspiracy theory-obsessed security guard (Frederic Doss) to get off campus alive and use their pop culture and video game knowledge to survive.

After a very professional and slick opening credit sequence, Humans vs. Zombies's problems begin almost immediately. The origin of the H1Z1 is muddled with poor editing and a worse script. From within a lab, we see two scientists working over computer models and taking bio-hazard containers out of freezers. These same two scientists decide to commit suicide when a fellow scientist on the other side of the glass begins smashing through the glass barrier as an alarm warns that the lab has been contaminated. Cut to a beach, where the same infected scientist stumbles across the sand intent on taking a bite out of an improbably busty blond coed who previously waded out into the surf only to come back covered in tar-like slime. What's the slime? Where did the zombie come from? Are the two connected? Even though we're given a clunky exposition dump later in the film to answer these questions, albeit unsatisfying, I'm still not sure if these questions are part of an intentional mystery or just the result of shoddy plotting.

Always serve H1Z1 freshly chilled
Aside from relentless cutaways to a descending and spinning aerial view of the campus, things get more reassuring once we get on campus and are introduced to our main cast. Surprisingly, most of the actors are pretty competent. They strike a range of talent well above high school drama but sometimes falling shy of being prime time worthy, although I suspect the script has more to do with some of the wooden deliveries. Most of the characters are likable, except for Tommi (Dora Madison Burge) a mean-spirited gamer girl who has a hate-on for jocks and Brad (Chip Joslin), the lost member of Tenacious D. Saying both characters are hard to stomach is an understatement

Yo, Brad! Jack Black called. He wants his EVERYTHING back
Even in the world-building, Humans vs. Zombies is a mess. In our world -- the one that we call reality -- zombies do not exist, no matter how much people like to joke about them when some poor drugged-up kid eats a homeless guy's face. In the world of Humans vs. Zombies, however, the talking head on the news and the snippets of radio broadcast we hear throughout the movie talk openly about a "zombie virus" that is on the loose. Oddly, none of the characters seem to notice or even care. If this is attempt at satire, there's nothing else in the film to back it up. Meanwhile, our nerdy hero Danny is a zombie fan who consumes zombie survival guides and the like. He's more willing to accept the existence of zombies, and his pop-culture knowledge helps them survive, but even he seems to take NO NOTICE OF THE NEWS WARNING ABOUT A ZOMBIE VIRUS. I think that the news and radio footage must have been added to the film well after the script was written and the main actors finished shooting, so the character never could respond to what they were hearing because it wasn't on set or in the script. I mean, if this isn't a case of a logic problem caused by last-minute ADR, then there's a severe flaw in this movie at the script level.

Freaks and Geeks
And so it goes for much of Humans vs. Zombies: potentially good ideas are wasted, formulaic elements fail to satisfy, and the occasionally interesting character element or plot turn rises above the general confusion and messiness of the script and editing. Even the zombie aspect of Humans vs. Zombies seems undercooked. Generally, I don't like movies in which "the zed word" gets thrown around by the characters as if zombies are a real thing that everyone understands and expects them to operate according to horror movie and video game logic, but since the characters are all college students steeped in video games and zombie popular culture (not to mention a war-vet obsessed with pop culture-inspired conspiracy theories), their hair-trigger use of the word "zombie" kind of makes sense within the context of their survivor circle. On the flip side, the zombies themselves are generic fast-moving zombies with bloody eyes cribbed from the 28 Days Later franchise, and there's nothing original or exciting about them.

The most pro-active campus security ever
I'll be honest: by the end of Humans vs. Zombies, my attention began to drift and I was more preoccupied with Twitter than I was with the movie in front of me. A classic example of a good concept fumbled over the net, Humans vs. Zombies is a played-out and tired attempt to spin a zombie movie off of a novelty live action role playing game once popular with college kids.