Written by: Mark Tonderai, Lars Jacobson, George A. Romero (original movie)
Directed by: Hèctor Hernández Vicens
Starring: Sophie Skelton, Johnathon Schaech, and Jeff Gum
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
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Some things never change. About ten years ago, Steve Miner’s Day of the Dead redux was among the first handful of movies I reviewed when this site launched. A decade later, here we are again, facing down the barrel of yet another “re-imagining” of George Romero’s classic, a term that once again should be applied in the loosest term since this one, too, is mostly bereft of any imagination. It’s bad enough that Romero was dogged by this sort of shameless cash-in during his life, and it feels especially gauche now to see someone reviving this title and drag it through the mud of another undeserving movie. Even if it was hatched with the purest of intentions (something that becomes increasingly hard to believe as it unfolds), Day of the Dead: Bloodline ultimately commits the cardinal sin of attaching this indelible title to a forgettable, generic zombie movie that Romero wouldn’t even entertain.
It seems to have been produced as the direct antithesis of Romero’s film, too, at least initially. Where the original Day opened on subtle, eerie shots of utter, sun-drenched desolation, this one opens in the midst of a frenzied, moonlit zombie apocalypse. A girl flees in terror as an undead horde chews through the flesh of the more unfortunate souls around her before a title card takes us back four hours earlier. We learn here that the panicked girl is Zoe Parker (Sophie Skelton), a wunderkind med student whose dedication has her crossing paths with various patients, including a stalker creep (Jonathan Schaech) who attempts to rape her. Mercifully, one of the morgue’s dead bodies inexplicably rises from the dead and interrupts the assault but also helps to usher in the apocalyptic outbreak glimpsed during the film’s opening minutes.
And if that doesn’t provide enough whiplash, the film then jumps ahead five years, at which point Bloodline settles into the Day of the Dead routine. Zoe is now holed up in a military installation that also functions as a research facility and refugee camp, where survivors are holed away, attempting to carve out some semblance of an existence. When Zoe needs to take a crew into town for a medical supply run, the operation goes south, resulting in casualties and a hidden stowaway in the form of what appears to be a hyper-advanced “rotter” capable of higher intelligence (and dexterity) than his fellow undead. Naturally, this subject—which is eventually revealed to be Zoe’s previous attacker—becomes of interest as his blood might hold the key to an antidote.
As it bounds between these various plot points, Bloodline feels almost overwhelmingly slapdash, as if the script has no real direction and is instead just a collection of familiar zombie movie beats. The doomed supply run feels like it could be cribbed from any number of Walking Dead episodes, while scenes featuring hordes of fast-moving zombies being mowed down by machine gun fire has become such old hat that my brain doesn’t even register it as novel (or even controversial, if you’re still the “zombies don’t run” type) anymore. There’s a glimmer of something interesting when Schaech’s zombie first invades the compound, at which point this starts to feel like the Alien to Zack Snyder’s Aliens-tinged take on Dawn of the Dead. He skulks through vents and shafts, attacking and devouring whatever crosses his path, making for an interesting—if not still quite familiar—wrinkle in this context that nets some decent horror moments.
Too bad the script has little interest in pursuing this or, well, just about any other sustained narrative. Once the main zombie is captured, the film commits to Romero’s themes, seemingly out of a half-assed sense of obligation to have its characters stand around and fuss at each other over the correct course of action. There’s a hard-ass, borderline fascist military leader (Jeff Gum) that wants to eradicate the zombie, while Zoe and her team want to keep it alive at all costs, a conflict that recreates the original film’s dynamic in the most rudimentary sense.
Between the young actors inhabiting these roles and the relationship drama that secretly unfolds between Zoe and the military leader’s brother, it feels like a very junior high production of Day of the Dead, one that fails to capture the nuance and complexity of Romero’s film. He, at least, had some perceptive musings on human nature; this movie just features a bunch of assholes screaming at each other like so many other zombie movies that have missed the point in the wake of Night of the Living Dead.
Weirdly enough, Bloodline does almost stumble onto something interesting in the unusual connection between Zoe and her subject. While he inhabits virtually the same space in the story, this zombie—who was known as “Max” when he was among the living—is no Bub. In fact, he’s practically the exact opposite of Romero’s sympathetic undead character, who represented a culmination of the director’s preoccupation with mankind’s monstrous nature; in contrast, Max is an irredeemable rapist whose sexual urges for Zoe continue in his unique, undead state. That she has to continually confront and work with him almost feels like an attempt to symbolically capture the experience of living with sexual trauma. Zoe is literally unable to escape or forget her assault, as she has to coexist with Max in order to study his genes, a turn of events that would be truly vital and relevant in today’s climate—if the film had any goddamn interest whatsoever in pursuing it beyond using it to generate cheap drama between Zoe and her boyfriend.
Like so much of Bloodline, it’s a missed opportunity to actually do something—or, better yet, be about something, which you damned well better do if you’re cribbing a Romero title. Unfortunately, this rendition of Day of the Dead can’t be bothered to give a damn: sure, it boasts some slick production values and some dynamic action shots, but it’s in the service of a limp, flailing script. Ditto for the gnarly effects work: credit is due to director Hector Vicens for insisting upon practical, visceral gore, an approach that yields an assortment of disemboweled guts, mangled faces, and arterial spray. However, we’re at the point where this alone can’t carry a zombie film anymore: if there’s one thing that’s definitely changed during the last decade, it’s been this genre’s oversaturation—even I have to admit that the thrill of watching people (even the most deserving assholes) be eviscerated by zombies barely registers at this point.
Unless, of course, it’s couched within a film that has something else going for it. Bloodline doesn’t, and, while I’m usually hesitant about using bonus features against a film itself, you can’t help but be taken aback by the apparent lack of a coherent vision here. Shockingly, much of the cast and crew (not to mention the film’s original tagline—“love means not having to say you’re zombie”) apparently envisioned this as a twisted love story, a revelation that tells you all you need to know about how misguided this film is. Either something was seriously altered in post-production, or this crew has a really imprudent, shockingly wrong-headed read on the dynamic between Zoe and her rapist. There’s nothing sweet about a guy who carves a girl’s name into his own arm before raping her, no matter how much you try to spin it in that direction. Somehow, Day of the Dead: Bloodline escalates from a shameless, empty-headed rip-off to something even more distasteful in this light, even if the final film doesn’t completely bear out these strange intentions.
Either way, I think it’s fair to say that one ill-advised Day of the Dead remake was enough; two is absolutely overkill, and we as a nation should probably draw the line here when it comes to leeching off of Romero’s work. For a man who made his living off of the undead, it certainly would be nice if these opportunistic vultures would just let his memory—and his titles–rest in peace.
Day of the Dead: Bloodline is now available on DVD/Blu-ray from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Special features include a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and trailers for the studio’s other recent releases.
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