The Walking Dead is Back With a Bang For Season 5

post-50785-walking-dead-season-5-meme-Img-xyif

Zombies haven’t always terrified me. In the sense that being bitten to death by disgusting, smelly, dead things while having my intestines pulled out through my body cavity, scary… It’s not like a zombie is really that threatening, after all. They shuffle, they move slowly, and they can’t out think you. But I have always considered zombies scary, plural, as in a you’re never safe, no matter how many you kill, how many walls you put up, or how far you run. You’re surrounded at all times by a shifting, shapeless horde of teeth, just waiting to bite and rip. IMG_0436The way they just pop up everywhere, overwhelming everything, and that horrifying sound that they make!!

Now that’s scary.

When I was younger and obsessed with Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, I often thought of the cultural satire that was woven into the story line. How the zombies come back to the mall, get caught on escalators, stuck in fountains. It all had this air of camp. When a zombie tore into another character you cheered, it was about the awesome special effects not the walking corpses. Back before zombies were a cultural phenomenon, when they were still used as symbols for our consumer culture. Back before Robert Kirkman wrote a little comic called The Walking Dead… and LONG before the great Frank Darabont had the guts to turn that book into one of the best shows on television.

There isn’t much room for camp on The Walking Dead, however. Much to its credit, the show chooses to follow human reactions to a zombie apocalypse instead of just staging the zombie apocalypse as a disaster-piece.

IMG_0414Tonight’s season five premier proved to us that this show is a balls-out, neck-biting, suspense-filled, thrill-ride with cannibalistic humanoids and all. It is a show at the top of its game, and running on all cylinders. I was literally on the edge of the couch the entire 40+ minutes.

I’m assuming that no spoiler tag is needed?

Season four ended with small-town-sheriff-turned-Zombie-apocalypse-savior-of-mankind Rick Grimes finally being reunited with the rest of the group from the prison. Yes, it was while trapped in a train car by cannibals parading as sanctuary, but that’s not the REAL point. As we see so well in the season five opener. There’s no sitting around and lamenting, there’s no crying in the corner like the original Terminus-ites do in the flashbacks that bookend the episode. There’s only the loose nail in the floorboard, or the crumbling-but-sharp wood in the walls… Season five starts with our group going all Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and prepping to fight their way out of the fix they’re in while snipets of dialogue show how they all catch each other up on what’s happened to them since the Governor brought a tank to a sword fight. As the guards come to take them, Rick tells the group to steady themselves.

IMG_0420“You all know what to do… Go for the eyes first, then their throats…”

No truer words were ever spoken.

Too bad the Termites (sounds better, right?) “flip the script,” so Eugene says, and drop a gas grenade in through the ceiling. Cut to the scariest room ever filmed: the slaughterhouse at Terminus. As Rick is dragged through the doors he sees a body on a table being broken down but two men in coveralls, and three big bins marked BURN, FEED, WASH. Through the center of the room there’s a long, shiny metal trough that Rick, Bob, Glen, and Daryl are lined up in front of. This gleaming, obviously polished trough that sits there like a cold, hard truth. This trough is where our survivors’ lives will drain out in a single stroke. Lined up, coincidentally, next to four random red-shirts all Star Trek style, the butchers start on the other end of the trough from Rick. Just as the horror begins, we get a glimpse of the blonde guy on the end, and if it isn’t the hippie kid from last season (played by none other than The Penguin on FOX’s new drama Gotham)! Remember when Rick kicked Carol out of the group and they ran into those kids hiding in the house? We only ever got to see what happened to her. (it looks like things didn’t fare too well for him either). One at a time smack the hog-tied survivors in the back of the head with a baseball bat, then slit their throats, and let them drain into the trough.

You can almost see the steam coming from the blood as it hits the cold metal. It’s a disturbing scene.

IMG_0426Before long, Bob tries to talk an uncaring Garreth, the leader of the Termites, into sparing them. He quickly talks about the Cure and Eugene and starting the world over… But he’s not remembering who he’s talking to. This is a man who has crossed a line in his mind that he can’t come back from. In a show all about skirting the line and coming back from it, we know when Garreth says, “Can’t go back, Bob…” and slides the gag back on, that appeals will not be considered. Soon we learn that this smack-and-slice show is all for Rick’s benefit. To scare him into telling Garreth what was in the big bag they buried in the woods before coming to Terminus.

IMG_0432Rick never breaks his stare. Like a vicious animal that has locked onto its prey, Rick is only thinking one thing: “The sharp piece of train car in my hand isn’t sawing this zip-tie fast enough.” But when Garreth begins to take Bob’s eye out, Rick tells him. “Guns. AK-47, .44 Magnum, automatic weapons, night scope… There’s a compound bow and a machete with a red handle. That’s what I’m going to use to kill you.”

And we know that Rick will get to do just that because Garreth only chuckles at him smugly, like a true hipster-turned-cannibal-leader, Garreth is too detached to feel the fear he should while staring into those eyes. Hell, I feel it, and I know it’s just a tv show. (keep telling yourself, it’s only a tv show, it’s only a tv show)

IMG_0429When gunfire erupts, there is a smile behind Rick’s murderous eyes when he hears it. We already know who and what it is, there’s only one group of survivors outside the gates. It’s Carol, of course, come seeking both her friends and redemption. Like a total boss she deftly maneuvers into the horde of walkers all Old School, covered in zombie Guts. (Season one shout out!) Using the distraction, Rick frees himself and runs through the two butchers like a hot train-car piece through butter, and it’s ON.

I almost didn’t think Carol was going to find the others… The way the episode tracks her progress through discovering what Terminus is for herself the same way the survivors did last episode… But the end of this roller-coaster ride is a deftly constructed emotional climax. I had tears falling pretty freely by the time Daryl sees her for the first time, running and taking her up in his arms… And then when Rick and Carl see Judith… Oh man, just thinking about it gets me a little misty. I applaud the show for keeping Judith alive long after she’d perished in the comic… It was a wise choice, and one that provides ample opportunity for the show going forward.Lauren-Cohan-in-The-Walking-Dead-Season-5

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see at LEAST another five seasons, and somewhere in there we need some time-jumps. I still think the ultimate way to end the series is to show a flash-forward of a time in the future where the world looks more like The Last of Us. Where nature has reclaimed the Earth and while the Walkers are still out there, really only in scattered hordes that are easily tracked or diverted. I see a network of communities, thriving, starting the world over, and I see the finale being all about having Judith’s wedding. Where we see Rick, while I’m sure crippled in some way (ahem, hand… kneecap), he frets about things like not knowing how to dance with his daughter with a busted old zombie-killing knee. A whole episode where no one gets their neck ripped out or cut up by cannibals… Where our survivors get to once again taste that normal life… And it will be oh so sweet because of everything we’ve gone through with them.

IMG_0442But I digress… There is literally too much going on in this episode to cover in one post, from Eugene’s disclosure about what sounds like an actual plan (as opposed to the books), to Tyrese’s extremely troubling conversation with a Termite who threatens Baby Judith, to the Terminus flashbacks where we see how a group of people trying to be human chose to be butchers instead of cattle… But most importantly is the stinger at the end, and its troubling implications. Just as the credits roll on one of the best episodes yet, we see a masked stranger walking the tracks our group just finally left toward the NO Sanctuary sign Rick left behind… The camera tightens in and the mask comes off, and as our brains quickly think back, “No, Shane’s twice dead, Dale is too, Hershel’s decapitated, Amy’s shot, Andrea’s gone, Lori’s dead, and now Nelson Van Alden and Chalky White?!!” (oh crap, wrong recap, sorry…)

IMG_0445But no, it’s a very mean-looking Morgan. The man from the beginning of the show, who Rick promised to radio every day and come back to find… Who we last saw shit-house-rat crazy and blaming Rick for his son’s death. While he seemed to have gotten over it and accepted his part, the look on Morgan’s face and the strange tree-carving Hobo-code symbols he’s following through the woods…? What are they? Who carved them there? They look fresh… And they don’t seem to be the markers Daryl left where they buried the big bag o’ guns… I’m curious, and while the episode’s plot and Morgan’s appearance seem a bit contrived, I remember that this is a juicy zombie show, and I should let certain plot devices just lay as they are.

Can I say, that I was VERY happy to see Walkers playing such a pivotal part in tonight’s episode? It seemed at times that they were just window dressing last season, only popping up at the right time to chomp. That explosion was KILLER.

The Walking Dead is back. Steady yourself. It think it’s going to get worse before it gets… Well, even worse.

IMG_0428

Sometimes writers are just too clever…

Advertisements

World War Z Movie Review

world-war-z-bb

I’m a zombie guy, always have been. Vampires are alright, werewolves eh… But zombies? Yes please! I know it’s so freakin cool to like zombies these days that it’s almost cool NOT to like them anymore… Popular culture just works that way. Popularity is like a zombie apocalypse. It’s manageable when there’s only a few of them, but as soon as you attract the attention of the horde, it’s all over. Ever since I saw George Romero‘s Dawn of the Dead years and years ago I knew that these shuffling, mindless, flesh-ripping monsters were really just a symbol of our modern society. In the good old days social commentary and satire went hand-in-hand with exploding heads and fists full of entrails.

Zombies have changed since 9/11. Now it’s all about social anxiety.

Dawn%20of%20the%20Dead1It used to be a voodoo curse or a weird green comet that reanimated dead flesh, sending it slowly in the direction of the all-nourishing brains. Now it’s all about the end of times. It’s a secret biological weapon or a mutated infection that sends our feverish husbands, wives, or kids into mysterious comas that end tragically with them gnawing on our ribcage. Now days it’s all about the system breaking down, the safety of our everyday lives being dowsed in gasoline and set on fire… And why not? We don’t need zombies to see this kind of human atrocity every day. Remember this is the same human nature that causes neighbors to stab each other over food or water during hurricanes and turns policemen into shoot-first-ask-questions-later militias…

28days31That’s the true fear we see reflected in the images of the Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, and now, World War Z. It’s not the inevitable zombie bite that scares the crap out of me, but the way that people react to it. How fear can twist the mind into something unrecognizable. It’s the stripping-away of our morals, our rights, our comfortable sense of home and safety. The de-evolution of mankind apparently happens in the blink of an eye.

We lose our shit quick. We are a world already torn apart by unspeakable violence, disease, political unrest, and worst of all… Apathy.

15362162_0This is the stage set in World War Z. A fast-paced, lean, and severely disturbing experiment in big-budget zombie movie making. No one who has read Max Brooks‘ novel seems to be pleased with the movie as far as I know… Luckily for me I haven’t read it yet. I’m still pissed at him for stealing my idea for the Zombie Survival Guide… But that was years ago. My point is this: apparently if you want to enjoy this movie you can’t be a WWZ novel fan-boy.

But I got into this movie, big time. It sucked me in from the opening credits, a montage of news footage and doomsday talk all set to a creepy, frenetic soundtrack by rock gods Muse. I also went to see it early on in the day, before my bullshit meter was filled up. zombies-world-war-zIt’s really the best time to see a scary movie. Most zombie movies are inherently campy, even the Walking Dead has a thick slab of cheese on top. It can’t be helped. It’s partly the gore, the make-up, the shufflin’ hordes I mentioned earlier.

World War Z side-steps the cliche by taking a few pages from Danny Boyle‘s low-budget masterpiece 28 Days Later… Which is in my opinion the scariest damn zombie flick ever made. With World War Z it’s almost as if Brad Pitt (and the studio) said, “Ok this is a great book, but let’s just use the name…” then they proceeded to make a Hollywood prequel to the Danny Boyle movie. Plagued by rewrites, bad press, and massive reshoots including an entirely new ending, this movie was destined to fail.

AFIQx

Fortunately the rewrites and the reshoots were a good call. Despite it’s flaws, World War Z is a solid piece of action film making. I was on the edge of my seat from the first few scenes til the credits came up at the end… And Holy Shit did I mention the zombies are scary? I mean mercilessly-vicious kind of scary? Like a flowing river of running, grabbing, chomping pack animals? These aren’t your Romero zombies baby, these suckers are more akin to wild animals infected with rabies and meth. They head-butt through glass to bite you, then on to the next person. They’re a spreading disease, not a legion of the undead.

world-war-z-trailer1Right away we’re introduced to Gerry Lane (Pitt), an ex-UN hot shot who wrote a controversial paper that got him an early retirement at home with the family. His comfortable little home life provides the emotional core to the movie, and co-star Mireille Enos provides a solid supporting role… Even if her part was cut down significantly. The star of AMC’s the Killing, Enos is underutilized here… (at least she isn’t Matthew Fox, who had his entire role trimmed down to two scenes and one line). The Lanes are going on a trip to Philadelphia, and that’s where they find themselves in the middle of a zombie outbreak.

pg_07_009_pcs__0730The scene is perfect. Quick cuts and some shaky-cam provide a sense of forboding as the family is stuck in a traffic jam that seems to stretch on forever. Soon the station-wagon is clipped by a passing motorcycle cop, and Gerry gets out to retrieve his side mirror. The buildings seem to loom over them in the downtown traffic. It’s claustrophobic, confusing, and brilliantly shot. When an explosion further up the street a few miles raises the panic meter, another motorcycle cop drives up and ushers Gerry back into his car. He shrugs his shoulders and does just that, before one of those physically-impossible speeding vehicle effects sends the cop sailing through the air as a garbage truck goes crashing through the lane next to them, plowing through parked cars like a hot knife through zombie. Soon Gerry, sensing he needs to get the hell out of there, falls in behind the truck, like Moses and the Red Sea of Philly traffic. Before they can get clear the car is t-boned by another escaping vehicle and the family is sent reeling. As Gerry pulls his wife and kids out of the Volvo he hears a noise… Behind the screams… Some kind of terrifying animal snarl. More quick-edits of people running and panicked faces are spliced with frightening images of zombie faces. It’s a good effect. You see them in the crowd, like Gerry, and then the music comes up… And the snarls are getting closer.

Remember Philly!

World-War-Z-ZombiesIn this movie there are Zombies leaping from tall buildings, crashing down with bone-crushing force, only to jump up and pounce on the nearest victim… All to spread the infection. It takes anywhere from 10 seconds to 10 minutes for people to “turn” and the lingering “how the hell does something that works that fast get through an airplane ride to disburse across the globe?” question will bug you through the whole thing. Suspend your disbelief. It’s worth it. This is one of the most suspenseful action/horror movies that has been pumped out of the Hollywood machine… And while it doesn’t do justice to the political satire and social commentary of the novel, it works none the less.

World-War-Z-HelicopterIn the end, World War Z is the “scariest” zombie flick I’ve seen in years. The CGI is perfect, the story is just enough to get us from one terrific disaster scene to the next, and even though it ballooned over budget and out of control, I’m glad it made some serious money. This one deserves a sequel!