Are you bored of characters who display even the most basic level of competence? Do you wish there was a movie where, at every single step, the wrongest decisions possible are made? Or a movie where you have to pretend it’s a stealth comedy to get any enjoyment from it? Then “Zombie Night” is for you!
The first minute of this SyFy original brings us very good news and very bad news. Good news – the cast. Anthony Michael Hall, Daryl Hannah and Alan Ruck – not exactly tentpole names any more, but still very solid (that I guessed correctly they’d be kept apart for most of the movie, so they could film it on the cheap, isn’t exactly my most amazing prediction). And the bad news – The Asylum. The kings of low-budget staff exploitation and health-and-safety ignoring are back, and yes, I know I said the last time that I wouldn’t do any of their movies again. Perhaps you’ll allow me to make a compromise, readers – I’ll just cover the Asylum when they’re making movies for the SyFy Channel, and hopefully there aren’t too many left.
The basic gist of things is there’s two different families who live next door to / somewhere near each other, and zombies suddenly start popping up everywhere – not only rising from the grave, but if you just die normally you’re screwed too. If you’re bitten…I’m not too sure about that one, but we can get to that later. Alan Ruck, his wife, their two sons and someone I assume is a nanny, are about to lock themselves in a panic room; they’re just waiting for Hall and Hannah and their daughter to turn up. Hall, the daughter and the daughter’s friend are in a graveyard and Hannah’s at home.
The first line of my notes reads “the daughter is a simpleton”, and I could repeat this, with the names switched out, throughout the review. At the first sight of zombies, friend panics and runs off; and then, lumbering through the night comes an old lady zombie. Daughter: “Amber? Is that you?” OF COURSE NOT YOU IDIOT IT’S A CHUFFING SHAMBLING ZOMBIE. Although, perhaps panic is a more sensible response than Hall’s initial one, which is sort of mild annoyance like the zombies are slowing down his morning commute.
I’d like to break down a scene inside Ruck’s house. The nanny wants to leave to be with her family, but they’ve already barricaded the house (she should probably have thought of that before). Ruck refuses to remove the barricade, and the nanny, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, starts speaking on behalf of the zombies, ranting about how they’re going to kill everyone. Ruck, quite reasonably, locks her in his study and starts ferrying the family upstairs to the panic room. First in is the kid – oh, how I loathe child actors – but, while the rest of the family are arguing about waiting for their neighbours to show up, the kid sneaks back downstairs and stands outside the locked study. While this was happening, the nanny has jimmied the window open without checking if there are any zombies stood right outside – she’s immediately attacked and “turned”. So, the kid stands there like a lemon, not doing anything within the realms of sense like asking his family if he should unlock the door, and then unlocks the door.
As the film had the gumption to kill a different kid earlier on (a small girl, shot when two people are wrestling over a gun) I assumed that the son was done for too – but no, as they rescue him, after some considerable time in the clutches of a zombie, from being…dribbled on? His ear is covered in blood so I assumed we were waiting for him to turn too, but he’s fine and it’s just a shoddily edited red herring. The older brother gets bitten in this tussle and does turn later, also killing Alan Ruck, so…thanks, you little asshole! We’re supposed to be pleased when he survives, I guess?
Ruck refuses to let his neighbours into the panic room, they argue, Hall and Hannah argue and run about, people are helped, people are killed, you know the drill. The unique selling point of “Zombie Night”, though, is it’s an undead-mockbuster of “The Purge”, the surprisingly thought-provoking movie from the same year. In “The Purge”, the legally allowed period of lawlessness lasts from 8pm to 8am; in “Zombie Night”, for no reason whatsoever, zombies start rising at dusk and all fall down dead again at dawn. We also get a moment where Daryl Hannah must have been crying at what she’d been reduced to, where she implausibly finds a sword and, in “homage” to Kill Bill, goes hog-wild on a whole heap of the undead.
Panic and incompetence, after a certain tipping point, just isn’t fun to watch, and this entire movie is panic and incompetence. People shriek and run away, and barricade themselves in poorly, and then run away again when the barricades are breached, and split up, and betray their friends, and there’s no relief from it. There’s also no zombie movies in this world, so I suppose the utter uselessness of every character is moderately realistic.
There’s a concept called “film grammar”, usually used in smarter reviews than this, that tells us there’s “rules” to how you structure movies, and you break those rules of grammar at your peril. Especially if you’re the Asylum, and there’s a particularly large example of those rules being broken here. We get a moment where Hall volunteers to hold a door in place so his family can escape. The family runs and the camera cuts from the scene without seeing him die, which tells us Hall is fine and will show up later. He does, so far so good…but then he has another “heroic sacrifice” moment which he also escapes from later! One is acceptable if trite, two is just ridiculous.
Then there’s a concept called “characters are dumbasses”, which we use quite a lot here. Hannah’s blind old mother manages to kill herself with her inability to just stay put when she’s told, then when she’s a zombie she can suddenly see again! And there’s the constant references to “it’s got to be dawn soon”. CHECK THE TIME YOU MORONS!!!! I wanted to slap everyone in this movie repeatedly.
Right at the end, one of the survivors asks “what happens at nightfall?”, a reasonable question, the answer to which is “please, whatever it is, don’t make a sequel”. This could well be the worst SyFy Channel original movie ever, so please avoid should they ever torture their viewership by repeating it. Director John Gulager also made the rotten “Piranha 3DD” (which I reviewed on here, but it got deleted when we changed hosting); and was the winner of “Project Greenlight”, so we have Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to blame for this, really.
Rating: thumbs down