DIRECTOR Colin Theys WRITER John Doolan; Steve Niles (graphic novel) STARS Grant Bowler; Evalena Marie; Tawny Cypress DVD 30 July
Here’s the fundamental problem. Zombies are dull.
Actually, that statement needs expansion. Zombies are an essential, historical part of the horror genre and are still relevant for the future of cinema, but their overuse by a generation of filmmakers who grew up idolising and attempting to imitate the work of George Romero has made them deathly dull. Pun intended.
Comic-book writer Steve Niles is probably best known for creating the 30 Days of Night series, which has created a strong cult following and allowed him to produce this adaptation of his 2004 five-part series as a made-for-TV film. But while the source material was strong, this is sadly lacking in several areas, and is crippled by a low budget that doesn’t allow for his original vision to be realised on screen.
Remains takes place in a small Nevada town, concentrating on the resident employees of a shabby hotel and casino. The nation’s eyes are on a nuclear peace initiative, but Tom (Grant Bowler) and Tori (Evalena Marie), two bored workers, take themselves into a storage room for a drug-fuelled sexual liaison. They’re locked in when an explosive burst of energy from the initiative engulfs the town, and when they emerge hours later, discover they’re part of a handful of survivors, with the rest of the inhabitants turned into the flesh-eating dead. These early scenes are amongst the best, primarily because the filmmakers are able to hide some of the budget’s shortcomings. Bowler and Marie are amiable enough, the creature and gore effects are good, and it’s always fun to watch characters learn how to deal with a survival situation, which is the foundation for any film of this type. But as the chaos around town escalates, the production doesn’t have the funds to show it, with explosions and carnage happening off screen. With a supporting cast who struggle to make you care for their fate, the lack of spectacle quickly causes interest to be lost.
One of the more interesting things about Remains is that it presents the zombies as being bound by certain biological rules. They still need to sleep and they don’t shy away from eating themselves or each other to feed their everlasting hunger. Intriguing ideas that could have been developed into something deeper, but in the end Niles abandons them to concentrate on the standard group-in-peril scenario. The Wire’s Lance Reddick turns up at the midpoint with his group of marines and briefly provides the film with a shot in the arm, but it’s not enough to save a story where you can easily predict the outcome, particularly if you’re used to this genre.
Zombies don’t need to be dull. The excellent Walking Dead has shown how to take the familiar and make it fresh, by taking the human element of the story and developing it over time, by investing deeply in character, background and motivations. The 80 minutes afforded to Remains don’t allow for this, and had this been a miniseries and not a movie, this review may have turned out very differently. As it is, this is nothing you haven’t seen done many times before, and much better, and as such feels like a missed opportunity.