Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane (2007)

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Directed by: Scott Thomas

Following on from Canadian Air Thriller ‘Altitude’ I’m sticking with films that take place on board a plane, whilst also returning to my favourite sub-genre in horror – The Zombie movie.

‘Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane’, the film’s bloated title, pretty much tells you what to expect; a long distance flight to Paris is carrying an assortment of characters and some top secret cargo. The co-pilot says “What are we carrying?” to which the pilot replies “I’m not sure I want to know”. Inevitably disaster ensues when the cargo breaks open and a deadly virus spreads.

The first half hour introduces us to the cast. We have tarty air hostesses aplenty, including one scream queen, a couple of bickering promiscuous and totally obnoxious twenty something couples, a fictionalized version of Tiger Woods with his nagging wife in tow, a lawyer and his dangerous client (a nod to any number of quite literally high flying 90’s action movies such as ‘Passenger 57’ and ‘Con Air’ perhaps?), a gun toting bad ass Federal Marshall who sports a fetching black beret and a few ethically unscrupulous scientists. It doesn’t take long to realize this film is ‘Snakes on a Plane’ minus the snakes.

When the plane enters storm clouds and endures a spell of turbulence the cargo begins to rattle and shake. A woman emerges from a crate, disorientated and dishevelled. The armed guard, clad in a bio-hazard suit, who has been watching over the cargo, spots the woman and shoots her. The woman has been infected with a deadly virus; she doesn’t stay dead for long, is reanimated in zombie form and violently disposes of the armed guard. Two scientists and the co-pilot go down to see what all the commotion was about. The scientists are clawed and bitten, but the co-pilot dramatically escapes from the attack. He raises the alarm, but it’s too late, the infected run riot and the passengers get chomped by blood thirsty zombies. A band of survivors battle back, and then face a race against time to regain control of the plane before a Fighter Jet takes decisive action with a heat seeking missile.

What’s good about this film is that when the infection spreads there is a wonderful sense of pandemonium. It’s quite gripping, and though there aren’t necessarily enough twists from this point onwards, there’s enough to keep you on the edge of your seat as zombies grab at passengers from holes in the floor, and through the flimsy bathroom walls. The zombies are frenzied and go for the throat; there is plenty of blood, enough to satisfy all you goremongers out there.

You pretty much have to suspend your disbelief for significant portions of the film. Our heroic survivors use pistols that fire a seemingly unlimited amount of ammunition, some of the people who get bit who don’t actually turn and the plane itself is able to take a hell of a lot of punishment. Then there’s the weak government sub-plot, which is pretty much tagged on. It seems a bit ridiculous why such precious cargo would be on a commercial flight, but hey, let’s not work our brains too hard thinking about this. It really doesn’t matter.

‘Flight of the Living Dead’ is a film which rather like the hand of a desperate zombie, frantically grabs for a cult following. I suppose what initially prevented this film from going viral is the lack of a #Sharknado Twitter boost in 2007, or even the kind of viral word of mouth hype which drove ‘Snakes on a Plane’. Having said that, it’s got a decent Rotten Tomatoes score, and plenty of people seem to like it. In my opinion this is a decent enough zombie film that nearly, almost, but not quite gets it right.

– RJW
5/10

 

 

2ND REVIEW – by marklongden

I watched this thanks to the above review, and while my co-reviewer nailed it, pretty much, I thought “well, it’s either write a review or spend an entire day working”. I quite surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it (and I was scanning the credits to make sure it wasn’t a SyFy Channel or Asylum production).

 

I presume page 1 of quite a few “scriptwriting for beginners” books talk about spending a little time setting up your characters, but so many films get it wrong, by having people behave in a weird way just to get some important information across. This film pretty much nails it – there are a good 15 characters in this, and they’re all set up quickly and efficiently and you can tell everyone apart. Apart from the Nun, but she’s just a visual joke anyway. Okay, it doesn’t always work – world famous black golfer Leopard Forests (not his actual name in the film), despite telling his wife that this holiday is all about them, has brought a golf club on board as his extra personal item for no reason whatsoever.

 

As well as being a horror film, this also works as a fantasy – a fantasy that planes are roomy and comfortable, and are staffed by impossibly attractive models. The economy class on this flight was like first class on a normal plane, and first class was like an unimaginably luxurious private jet. Although, a normal plane interior wouldn’t have been very exciting to film in, because the zombies wouldn’t have room to move. Two jokes!

 

One of the fun things about zombie films is trying to figure out who’s going to die. We weigh things up based on the morals of the characters, how attractive they are, if they mention it being their last week before retirement, and so on. This film is refreshingly difficult to do that with (although there are some obvious ones). It degenerates very quickly into chaos, with zombies coming through mirrors and up through floors, and people you were convinced would at least be around for the final fight get bitten and are done with fairly quickly. The fact it’s surprisingly bonkers is a big plus point for it, I think.

 

It’s not perfect, for certain. There’s a scene where a small group of the living are crawling along a maintenance section for what seems like ten minutes, leaving the question to be asked: “How long is this damn plane?” The women in this film are window-dressing, each and every one, and there are a few logical questions that, post 9/11, take you out of things a little. How does a commercial airline allow a group of renegade scientists to get on an international flight? How many people in fridges carrying a zombie plague are being transported every day in cargo holds? And the tension is affected by we the viewers never really having any sense of where the plane is – the pilot refuses to just put the plane down for the longest time, so I assumed they were over the Atlantic, but it turns out the plane was going from LA and had only made it as far as somewhere near Canadian airspace before turning back. Seriously, pilot, land the plane in a damn field! Zombies are killing your passengers and crew!

 

What it is, though, is a surprisingly fun film that deserved a little of the “Snakes on a Plane” buzz. The cast are solid, featuring plenty of old hands at this sort of thing. Well, that and ludicrously attractive women, but admiring the rather wonderful Kristen Kerr (right before this film, she worked on “Inland Empire”, which must have been a weird transition for her) is difficult when you realise none of the women in this film have any agency, really. Even so, one worth adding to that shelf of films to pop on if you’re feeling ill and don’t want to concentrate too hard.

Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane on IMDB

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Youtube Film Club: Altitude (2010)

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Directed by: Kaare Andrews

A lot of care seems to have been taken to make the flight scenes in ‘Altitude’ authentic. I’m guessing lead actress Jessica Downes either spent some time in a flight simulator or completed some actual flying lessons. It’s a nice touch, I suppose, in what is a reasonably interesting movie let down by cardboard characters and a wild curveball of an ending.

I suppose in days gone by ‘Altitude’ would be a condensed episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ or ‘The Outer Limits’. It certainly is a stretched film and there’s a lot of padding. As five teenagers played by twenty something actors fly a doomed small civil aircraft from their hometown air strip to somewhere hosting a Coldplay gig; you’ve got Sara (Downes), her blonde BFF, the blonde’s obnoxious jock boyfriend Sal, Sara’s weird new boyfriend with a dark secret Bruce and Cory who you know will die first.

Initially we’re greeted by an almighty gust of wind, which sounds like turbulence, the screen is black and titles appear in white for nearly two and a half minutes. Then we flashback; two parents and their young son are taking a trip in a small aircraft piloted by a woman. The kid hyperventilates and begins to panic. Out of nowhere there’s a mid-air collision with another plane. It’s a scene which demands you to pay attention. Asking yourself – do we focus on the pilot or the kid?

Thankfully Sal tells us as the youngsters are about to board the plane. Sara’s mum was a pilot, the woman who died in the mid-air collision. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out who the kid is. The problem throughout ‘Altitude’ is that everything is explicitly signposted. We know Sara’s weird boyfriend Bruce is going to reveal something important (***hint*** I’ve just said who he is). We know the comic book (Fun Fact: the director is also a comic book writer) that Sara gives her boyfriend will prove to be significant. As the plane takes off a bolt on the plane’s tail unloosens, this unsurprisingly is also significant.

The plane flies into a mass of black stormy clouds and the majority of the film takes place in this flickering gloom. It is an epileptic’s nightmare which makes for an unpleasant viewing experience. The passengers quickly turn on Sara the pilot, believing her to be incapable (and reinforcing the stereotype of women being not only bad drivers but also bad pilots). There is a significant amount of finger pointing and blaming, which could be misconstrued as dramatic acting.

I suppose there is a little tension when the teenagers realize they’re facing certain death. They panic, freak out and turn on each other; but things begin to get ridiculous. First in the storm clouds there’s some kind of tentacled beast. Then we see that the comic book reveals everything that is going to happen to the passengers. One by one they begin to perish. Obviously Cory dies first.

I’m not going to spoil the ending. But I hated it. I was probably one of the few viewers of this film who wanted everybody to survive in order for each of the characters to be tortured by the music of Coldplay. It almost seems sad that they didn’t get to hear Chris Martin’s cloying tones echoing around a soulless arena somewhere in Middle America.

– RJW
4/10

Altitude on IMDB

Flight (2012)

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After 12 years roaming the CGI wilderness Robert Zemeckis makes a welcome return to the world of live action movie making with Flight, a film about maverick aeroplane pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) who’s ingenuity saves countless lives on a charter cross-country flight after a technical malfunction kills the craft’s engine power and forces him to make an against-all-odds crash landing.

I generally approach Denzel Washington vehicles with caution but the lure of Zemeckis in the director’s seat overruled any preconceptions of another snooze-worthy by-the-numbers turn from every footballer and casual cinema-goer’s favourite actor and put Flight high up my anticipation list for 2013. In fact, one of Zemeckis’s strengths is his actor play and he coerces an incredibly watchable performance from the Oscar winner and his subtleties with the camera allow Washington to quickly grow into the role and carry the film.

After the crash Whitaker’s heroism is the subject of intense media scrutiny eventually leading to intrusions into his personal life which unearths the inevitable discovery of darkness inside the man. It’s not that Whitaker has created a fake holier-than-thou persona a la Lance Armstrong, he doesn’t thrive on attention of any sort in fact he despises it, he knows he has dependencies and lack of control over his vices but at the same time he knows he’s good at his job discounting any moral issues that arise from mixing the two. Upon discovery, thanks to two empty mini vodka bottles found in the cockpit bin, he tries to lay the blame with a colleague who perished in the crash thus absolving him of any wrong-doing in the eyes of the public and, more importantly, a few years in the county pen.

The secondary storyline revolves around a romantic subplot with Nicole (Kelly Reilly), an equally fractured soul who is supposed to give us access to Whitaker’s everyday actions but doesn’t quite achieve any further understanding of him or develop any character progression. It carries more a tinge of the manufactured, even becoming superfluous to the point that every scene with Reilly in is clock-watchingly boring and when the plot is finally alleviated of her presence her whole participation does feel quite like wasted time. It also doesn’t help that she bears a passing resemblance to Meep from Jim Henson’s Muppets.

Fleshing out the support cast are Don Cheadle as the lawyer who makes light work of finding flaws in the system to get Whitaker out of trouble relatively scott free, Bruce Greenwood as Kip’s old pilot pal and John Goodman as Kip’s old party pal. Cheadle brings a calculated, educated nous to his role and performs without a hitch and Greenwood is as straight laced as you’d expect a secondary flight captain without a developed character to be while Goodman channels The Big Lebowski’s Walter Sobchak and seems like an odd fit to the overly serious and dour tone. He doesn’t overplay it and is obviously supposed to provide comic relief but at times his character comes across as a little too overcooked, yes he and Kip went to parties and took drugs together but does he really need to elaborate on this in every scene he appears? We get it.

The technical side of Flight belongs to the stunning crash scene at the beginning of the film, an awe inspiring sequence of gravity defying proportions is given added tension by Zemeckis’s wily camera placement. Either keeping us in suspense with the passengers or mopping our brow with the cabin crew, he gives Washington just enough rope that we’re the proverbial child clinging to his leg knowing that this is the safest place to be. Unfortunately this early point is also the peak and the descent albeit a slow, smooth one is still a descent nonetheless and, as hard as Washington tries, he can’t carry the filler parts of the film on his already overburdened shoulders.

Flight isn’t a bad film it’s just not a great film, it has enough to make it a passable character study into the addictive side of man but does ramble and stutter in places and can do with a character dropped and some run time shaved off its final cut. However, it is an absolute joy to welcome Robert Zemeckis back into the real-life fold and no matter how rusty he seems with this comeback after his 12 year sabbatical he shows enough of his best strengths are still there so it’s just a simple matter of tweaking the other things. Welcome back Bob.

– Greg Foster

Flight on IMDB
Buy Flight [Blu-ray] [Region Free]