It seems as though you simply can’t escape zombies nowadays. Perhaps it’s the ease with which someone can make a zombie film – you hardly need professional actors to do a slow bumble down the road and then act like they’re searching for a Werther’s Original in an eviscerated corpse. Maybe it’s because zombies have infected pop culture like Polio in a third-world orphanage. Or, the fact it’s an exceedingly popular fad, and people are milking the teat of the cash cow until it withers into something resembling Joan Rivers’ neck.
Whatever your take on zombies, Play Dead, the new short from Andres and Diego Meza-Valdes, takes a different approach in a genre that seems to have scraped the bottom of the barrel through to the earth below and was last seen a few miles closer to the core.
The film follows the story of a ragtag pack of dogs in the ruined streets of Miami after their rather unfortunate owners are eaten like Pedigree Chum by the zombie hordes. The opening gambit sets the tone for the rest of the film: light hearted and stylish with buckets of entrails for good measure.
Was it perfect? No. Frankly, there are a number of gripes with the film that distracted me. They needed to pare back some of the more obvious (and ultimately flat) jokes and references, many of which have the feel of a film-student prodding you saying ‘this bit’s funny, ain’t it?’ For example, the dog-tag information (dog-tag, see what they did there? Funny ain’t it?) feels too forced and, quite simply, doesn’t work either as humour or as a way of injecting personality into characters that aren’t remotely explored in the actual film. Indeed, I’d take a punt and say that this particular idea is from their Kickstarter campaign, where $750 got a dog renamed after you.
The vignettes that form the various strings that bring together the canine collective have little cohesion and some scenes feel like fanboy salutes to the cult of the undead (the scene, five minutes in where people drive into a car park and start shooting was wholly unnecessary – it didn’t serve the characters or the plot). What it did do, was play to the genre expectations of gore and shooting.
However, if you have an insatiable appetite for zombie films, then you will, no doubt, love the slight twist on the formula. Besides which, the film jaunts along at a pace which thankfully belies the running time.
One last thought: can we all agree to stop using the moniker ‘Dead’ in the title of every single zombie film/video game/TV show? I’m never sure whether they’re paying homage to Romero, bookmarking the genre in the title, or they’re just too lazy to think of something innovative.