D: Jesse Dayton / 81m
Cast: Lew Temple, Malcolm McDowell, David Christopher, Emily Kaye, Desiree McKinney, Pierre Kennel, Sid Haig, John Doe, Corey Feldman
An attempt at bringing something new to the zombie genre, Zombex has a fast-tracked drug devised to help the residents of New Orleans worst affected by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, brought front and centre as the reason why people are transformed into flesh-eating monsters (the word zombie isn’t actually used in the movie). The drug is the brainchild of Dr Soulis (McDowell); he works for Chandler Pharmaceuticals. The company, led by Rush Chandler (Kennel), refuses to accept any blame for the chaos and death happening in New Orleans and employs a private security consultant Katie Ann (Kaye) to provide a “final solution” involving the killing and removal of all the affected. Also caught up in Chandler’s rearguard action are radio DJ Aldous Huxtable (Temple), and musician Charlie Thibideaux (Christopher). Huxtable uses his radio show to rail against Chandler Pharmaceuticals; when he receives a package from the military containing an antidote to the drug created by Soulis, he determines to travel to Austin, Texas where there are further supplies, and to bring more of the antidote back to New Orleans. Thibideaux, whose parents are among the first victims of the drug, agrees to help him.
For the first thirty minutes or so, Zombex succeeds in its aim of telling a different story from the standard zombie outing. The characters are introduced with an economy and flair that bodes well for the rest of the movie, and Dayton’s script, while keeping the narrative fragmented at first, is sure-footed and absorbing. Some of the dialogue isn’t quite as convincing but Huxtable’s on-air rants are certainly entertaining. Then Thibideaux and Huxtable hit the road for Austin, and the movie’s confidence in itself begins to wane.
As a road movie, Zombex is where things begin to go seriously wrong. The tension drains away, Huxtable and Thibideaux pick up Katie Ann and her subordinate Thea (McKinney), and the journey is peppered with random attacks that serve to thin the cast and provide a series of gory moments that are an awkward mix of practical effects and CGI. There are equally awkward digressions: an unnecessary sex scene between Katie Ann and Thea (watched by Thibideaux), a repeat of a scene involving Thibideaux outside his parents’ house, and the attack on Rush Chandler and his family (this last example is troubling because it’s never clear where Chandler lives or works but the impression is given that it’s outside New Orleans and the affected are supposed to be restricted to that area). And the movie ends abruptly, with the rug pulled out from under the audience.
Budgetary considerations aside, Dayton, making his first outing as a writer/director, manages to keep things (mostly) interesting throughout, though events become increasingly risible. There’s the small matter of Katie Ann being a dancer in a club as well as a security consultant – it’s how she and Thibideaux first meet – and the issue of her wearing hot pants and a low-cut top from the time she meets Thibideaux and Huxtable despite having been seen killing the affected in faux-combat gear. (Thea’s change of costume is even more revealing.) The affected pop up all over the place: at the side of the road, out of lakes, even appearing suddenly in a room in a secure building. And one character’s fate – while packing an emotional heft lacking from the rest of the movie – comes across as an idea Dayton had while writing the script and decided to keep in, even though the reason behind it is tenuous at best.
The cast provide mixed performances, with Temple a stand out as the verbose, never-quite-knowing-when-to-keep-quiet DJ. Christopher copes fairly well with the dialogue but uses only a couple of expressions from start to finish, while Kaye has the amateur’s talent for stressing the wrong syllables and distorting the meaning of what’s being said. McDowell looks bored but still manages to shine in a role that requires him to spout a terrible amount of exposition, Kennel plays it one-note as the self-centred Chandler, while Haig reminds everyone why he only gets cameo roles these days: he’s just plain bad (and in possibly the world’s worst military outfit; he looks more like the commandante of a South American dictatorship than an army man). And let’s not forget Feldman, who enters the first of his two scenes as if he’s late and the scene’s been filming past his entrance.
The photography by Allan Curtis is bright and energetic, and Dayton frames each scene with a more experienced eye than you’d expect. Further on the technical side, Zombex features some good make up effects, and the music by Stuart Rau is quietly atmospheric and supports the action well. Zombex is well-mounted from start to finish, and looks like a movie with a much bigger budget.
Rating: 5/10 – let down by its road movie mentality, Zombex struggles to maintain and capitalise on its early promise; not the car wreck it could have been but still a disappointment.