Saturday, November 7, 2009

COLIN (2008)

In the eternal debate on Shamblers versus Sprinters, it’s nice to see a new zombie film take the side of the Shamblers and put up one damned fine pro argument. Although the Brit DIY entry Colin starts off on a slo-burn, about a half-hour in it kicks into an extended set-piece involving a zombie attack on what seems to be a sorority house that proves that although they’re all slow and messed up, the sheer numbers of the Shamblers are what’s gonna get you in the end. And front. And whatever piece of flesh they can latch on to and sink their teeth into.

While there are plenty of other reasons to recommend Colin, this setpiece is probably one of the most well-crafted portrayals of zombie mass attack in recent memory. There’s a 70s vibe to the scene, with a grainy, near-fetish aspect to the girls (and a couple of dorky dudes) putting up their last stand, armed only with pots and pans, an umbrella and whatever else solid is on hand.

The five-minute setpiece taps into the creeping dread that used to be the benchmark of the genre, the futility of fighting off the undead masses only to inevitably sink beneath their weight, to be torn apart slowly… slowly… slowly. The scene seems to go on forever, in a good way. It’s refreshing to find a filmmaker that still cares about the potential of the genre, as with the main- streaming of zombies we end up with Hollywood churning out buddy movies clad in zombie rags.


If you’ve heard of Marc Price’s 2009 Cannes sensation (now on DVD), it probably came hag-ridden with the hype that it was the zombie flick that was shot on video for £45 (US$75). Ultimately, the ballyhoo does Price’s film more than a disservice than just serving as good publicity. Because seriously, how many non-filmmakers are gonna be tempted to buy or rent a DIY project that they hear cost less than a keg of Guinness to shoot? Putting aside that, Colin is a solid entry in the genre that should be approached with what it has to offer, rather than how much it cost to make.

Taking up the POV of the eponymous character, we follow Colin as he drops by friend Damien’s flat to wash off some blood. Outside, the zombie apocalypse rages, the popcorn rattle of a pitched battle as unseen forces try to put down the uprising. Colin’s bad day gets worse as he’s jumped by the erstwhile friend and has to put Damien down.

Unfortunately, Colin’s bleeding out himself… and soon wakes up dead. And so it goes, as the living dead boy shambles to Point A to B to see what’s on the London streets for him to eat. Like I mentioned, the first half-hour takes some investment to immerse oneself in. Shot on a handheld Panasonic NV GS250, the motion sickness-inducing cinematography might be a chore for anyone that can’t abide the shaky-cam ethos. But the fact that Price pulled a solid-looking shoot out of a $1,300 consumer cam (and edited the material on Adobe Premiere) is pretty damned impressive in itself… but it’s what he does with the material that is outstanding.

The performances are surprisingly subdued for the material, and assayed by actors that evoke an instant empathy from the viewer. Which is an accomplishment in itself, and necessary. The living only get a few moments here, and for the material to work we need to be pulling for them the moment they step into the frame. The actors pull it off.

There’s a lot of thought on display in Colin, playing almost like a Hal Hartley take on the genre. It approaches the scenario on a more existential level, keeping an eye out for the more mundane aspects of life among the dead. One survivor takes momentary refuge in her bedroom, the walls lined with DVDs. One assumes that the bulk of them are horror, gauging from the ironic mien of the girl. Her back to the door, it begins to rattle.

“They’re coming to get you, Barbra.”

Throughout, the British stiff upper lip is on display as the living acclimate to dodging the Shamblers. It’s obviously a losing battle, but they’re not going down without a fight. Not having access to the arms caches like their American counterparts, bricks and clubs, pipebombs and even slingshots are used to put down the dead. It’s ugly and generally futile, as Colin (and the other Zeds) abide.

Even most of the deaths ring realistic, as one-by-one the living are inexorably tracked down and cornered, dying with clumsy flailing, whines and moans in lieu of a Wilhelm scream.

But Colin isn't all grim nihilism and grody gore effects... also apparent is the British appreciation for absurdity. While not as overt as Shaun of the Dead, there's still some chuckles to be found here, even after death. Fortunately (for the tone of the piece), the humor is situational and not at the expense of the zombies... no Romero-esque clowns staggering around, here. Ironically, while there's plenty of nods to Romero on display, Colin feels more like a Romero film than the man himself has managed of late.

It's one very working class zombie film, evoking Romero in his Martin period.

Not to say that the DIY aspect doesn’t show its duct tape on occasion. There’s one set-piece involving the sole survivor of sorority death row that is so dark, it’s hard to make heads or tails of exactly what the hell is going down until it’s done.

But otherwise there’s so much loving detail that even the weaknesses seem organic, and enough grace notes that it’d be a crime if Colin doesn’t find its audience down the road. Right now it’s only available on DVD in Britain, but hopefully an American distributor picks it up Stateside.

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