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Simon Read [Celluloid 02.23.12] Ireland (Republic of) zombies horror comedy drama

Year: 2011
Directors: Bing Bailey
Writers: Bing Bailey & Laura Morand Bailey
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Bing Bailey's Dublin set mock-zom-doc is something of an oddity. Try to imagine a zombie movie in which basically everyone is okay with the fact that there are zombies around every corner, lurking in bedrooms and hallways in housing estates; just another problem alongside unemployment, failing marriages and the price of tea. People go to work, visit relatives and carry on as if the zombie epidemic was just another one of life's burdens, a bit like accepting that we're in the middle of a global financial meltdown that has nothing to do with us, but for which we're paying the price. And yet it's played largely straight and not for laughs. I think the word that comes to mind while watching these characters is simply: Madness. Everyone in this films is insane; zombies, people and film crews, all in it together.

The film follows a team of documentary film makers during a zombie outbreak in Dublin, Ireland. The Murphy family's eldest son Billy has contracted the virus from his job at the local meat processing plant and instead of doing the sensible thing ("Shoot it in the head, man") they've trussed him up in a straight jacket, fixed on a muzzle and are trying to keep things going as normal as possible. Normal being a relative term in a city where zombies lurk behind every corner and the local crime gang are trying to tackle the problem since the police and army are entirely absent...

The film actually takes the form of a documentary about the documentary our film makers have already made, and begins with another camera crew interviewing Billy's father in the aftermath of what happened to the original team, and even then the camera tends to float around as if this were a feature film, but far from making a muddled narrative it all works very well given the chaos that we see on screen. Every two or three scenes of the domestic troubles facing the Murphy clan (a pregnant girlfriend, unemployment, a younger goth teenager who's jealous of his zombie brother) are interrupted by some kind of frantic violence. Death squads of armed thugs are trying to eradicate the threat, citizens are hunted by lurching ghouls (some are sprinters a la 28 Days, others lurch in Romero fashion) and the neighbors are getting understandably annoyed at Billy's special treatment. As the film progresses tensions rise and the third act is pretty much an all out zombie nightmare of guts and guns. Good stuff.

It's a kind of comedy too with some wonderfully bad taste and black humour amongst the zombie kills and feeding frenzies. Billy's parents are the real heart and soul of the film as they sit on the couch for interviews recounting how they met, how proud they are of Billy and if only people knew him like they do (cut to shots of Billy writhing in bed, gnashing his teeth and screaming). They're banned from the local supermarket for buying out all the meat, ostracized by the community and threatened by gangsters but they smile all though it as they've got what's important in life: Family. The film crew themselves are a raggedy bunch headed up by an arrogant American who's there solely to take advantage of the situation and happy to boss his underlings around and slyly seduce Billy's sister, Louise. His personality could be summed up by his monologue on the Irish spirit and fine nature as he sips coffee in the back yard, only to spit the drink out and grimace, "But why can't any of the fuckers make a decent cup of coffee?!" We root for his death, but he's usually selfish enough to push someone else into the path of any and all zombies coming his way.

The budget may be super-low, but the sound editing, acting and naturalistic dialogue, along with the evil sense of humour all combine to make a very memorable and worthy entry into the zombie canon. I went into this one without doing any research and as soon as I spotted a reference to 'Shatter Dead' I knew I was in safe hands. These guys clearly love the genre and went into this project intending to make the best, funniest and most violent film possible with what means they had, and it works. The standout performance is absolutely from Billy's mum played very sympathetically by Geraldine McAlinden. Her moments of tenderness with Billy show true motherly love, and then turn absolutely sinister in a way I cannot divulge for fear of spoiling the most intense moment in the film. There's also a brief nod a an Irish/British sitcom called 'Father Ted' which I think will be lost on audiences outside of Ireland and the UK, but I burst out laughing when I noticed it.

Bing Bailey's 'Portrait of a Zombie' is a different kind of zombie movie from the usual schlock produced by any fool with a camera and a bucket of play-blood. It's got the gore sure, but has social commentary, family issues, practical questions about the nature of documenting a subject without becoming too involved, and importantly; a refreshingly confident sense of its own style. I look forward to seeing more from Mr. Bailey in the future, maybe even a sequel?

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quietearth (10 years ago) Reply

I loved this film especially how people walked around eeeeeeee


sneeson (10 years ago) Reply

Lovely review, glad you liked it.

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