Tuesday, July 19, 2011

La Horde

Zombies were what got me into b-movies, monster flicks and horror in general. Though I was never the bravest of film-goers back when I was young, from the moment I watched Night of the Living Dead and then Dawn of the Dead, I was smitten. (But not bitten!). So I went out and hunted other zombie films, read books about zombie films (Jamie Russell's Book of the Dead is fantastic) and generally immersed myself in the world of the zombie.

Over the next few years, I watched some gems, some forgettable films and some utter atrocities (Lake of the Zombies, I'm looking at you!). Sadly, however, it doesn't take very long until you find yourself pretty saturated with zombie films. The downside of a reliably consistent mythology such as zombies is that they very quickly all become the same. Even the Great Debate of zombie cinema is only concerned with the speed they move... Plots, films, set-pieces and characters all very quickly blur into one, leaving only a few stand-out films or scenes that hang around in your memory (like Zombi 2's underwater zombie fight!)

It's certainly well-documented that zombies have, over the last few years, been very much back in fashion, but this doesn't necessarily bode well for decent movies. Whilst the Resident Evil games are fun, the film cross-over (at least, the first one) was pretty dire and Zombieland was a sentimental, overhyped, deeply-flawed trampling of the zombie legacy. There've been some decent funny approaches to the zombie - Shaun of the Dead and Dead Snow both show much love for the genre they parody but, whilst parody is fun at times, there has been little meat for the lover of zombie cinema to get their teeth into. The first half of 28 Days Later is probably the height of 21st century zombie cinema, if we're honest. All of which should go someway to explaining quite how refreshing it was to watch La Horde, France's contribution to 21st Century Zombie Cinema!

La Horde has had some pretty mixed reviews across the internet, but I must say that I thought it was great, a fabulously fun ride from start to finish that reminded me how long it was since I'd seen a zombie movie even half as good. I would quite confidently suggest that a large number of those who've been negative about this film didn't like zombie cinema in the first place. And this is important. Whilst La Horde is great fun, it's certainly no crossover hit in the sense of 28 Days. This is a film made for zombie lovers by zombie lovers.

What we get here is a film that's fast, funny, fresh and gory enough to maintain interest yet that treads very carefully within the boundaries of the zombie mythology that we know and love. The set-up is essentially a familiar one, a group of people who do not get along at all are tasked with relying upon each other to survive a relentless mass of the living dead. This has been the broad set-up for many a zombie film and, provided the interaction between the characters is fresh and interesting, it's a set-up that still has much to give. The choice to align a criminal gang and a police force in La Horde is an inspired one, and one that becomes still more inspired as it the film slowly messes with our opinions on exactly who the 'goodies' and 'baddies' are within the group. Refreshingly, the woman of the group is utterly bad-ass too. Women in zombie films have so often had to accept the role of screaming idiot, so Claude Perron's snarling, zombie-smashing character is decidedly welcome.

The Zombies, as so often in a decent zombie film, do not steal the limelight at all (there are thankfully no humorous or particularly distinctive examples) and exist to snarl, snap and splatter, bashing endlessly against locked doors and hunting down the living. They're fast - but that's fine - and they're dead. The reason for their zombification is never really explained and hardly even alluded to (cue much disgruntled muttering on the IMDB messageboards) but this is simply not a problem: anyone who thinks a zombie film is about an explanation for what might provoke a zombie attack is misunderstanding the genre. Zombies are the eternal 'other'. They embody threat, fear, isolation and death, they are nightmares; finding plausible reasons for their existence is somewhat besides the point.

Mostly, what appeals about La Horde is that it is a great fun film. A frantic dash through walking corpses full of suspense and... some good splatter.

And splatter is what a decent zombie film is all about...

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