Written and Directed by: Turner Clay
Starring: Jay Hayden, Andy Stahl, Tori White
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
When the dead walk, the living...run.
Writing off State of Emergency on sight probably wasn’t fair, and it’s not something I typically do; however, when confronted with yet another zombie movie, it’s hard not to wonder if it would justify its own existence, which has become an increasingly difficult task in this crowded genre. Whoever designed the DVD cover did it few favors, too, as I couldn’t even get the disc into the player without seeing a scene featuring a character sending out a distress signal via linens, à la 28 Days Later.
That ended up being an appropriate omen since State of Emergency conjures up the same sort of argument that film did: is a zombie movie still a zombie movie if you’re dealing with something that might not be undead but rather infected? As this one unfolded, it occurred to me that this genre has mutated and become codified beyond the monster that gave it its name; in short, you just kind of know of a zombie movie when you see it at this point.
Consider this one: you’ve got your seemingly lone survivor (Jay Harden) fighting his way through what looks to be a post-apocalyptic scenario. His town has gone up in smoke and flames amid an increased military presence; details are scarce, but Jim wisely bunkers down in an abandoned barn before reaching out for help. He’s answered by a group of fellow survivors who have taken refuge across the street in a more secure complex. Together, they band together to discover that the town is under siege by a rabid horde of citizens after a local chemical factory explodes.
Technically, I suppose that doesn’t make them zombies—this is indeed another riff on the infected, done in the vein of The Crazies and 28 Days Later. Still, I’ll be damned if this isn’t a zombie movie all the same considering it largely follows the same structure laid forth by its undead predecessors for decades. Call it what you want, but when it looks like a zombie, grunts like a zombie, and moves like a zombie, it’s practically a zombie movie. On that note, State of Emergency features the hyper-kinetic form of whatever you want to call them, a wrinkle I mention for clarification and not because it actually represents anything particularly inventive. As usual, the faster moving form brings an immediacy that their shambling counterparts lack, but even running zombies feel like old hat these days.
State of Emergency has a wardrobe full of old hats, all of them tailor made and ready to go. That I’ve spent so much of this review debating its “zombiness” probably says a lot about it, but, really, whatever it is, State of Emergency is perfectly fine for something that feels destined to hit certain beats. It’s very correct and precise in this respect: Jim has his Tragic History complete with the love of his life; a self-proclaimed terminal fuck-up unable to make friends, he was just on the verge of getting things straight before the outbreak. The group he meets includes a husband and wife duo who turn out to be perfectly amiable; another, more withdrawn girl is not, and she initially clashes with Jim (over candy bars, of all things—that actually might be a first in one of these things). There’s a scene where the group has to make the tough decision to refuse entry to someone who may be infected (though the scene doesn’t completely exploit the gravity of the situation by committing to the necessary ambiguity). Even though this film was likely shot before The Walking Dead began airing, it feels very much like that show, right down to the bronzed, de-saturated photography.
Considering The Walking Dead is already familiar enough, such a comparison doesn’t seem to help State of Emergency’s case; indeed, as it unfolded, I realized how much I’ve relented to that show’s incessant sense of nihilism. When Jim receives the phone call towards the beginning, it’s hard not to assume that it’s an ominous moment that spells doom in some way—after all, humanity being its own worst enemy has sort of been the theme of these movies for forty years (a sentiment that The Walking Dead takes to a hideous, soulless extreme). But no—this is where State of Emergency states its case by refusing to yield to overbearing grimness. The conflict over the candy bar seems silly at first, but something about it seems pretty human, and the film admirably keeps the group’s squabbling to a minimum. For various reasons (such as its relatively limited scope and scale), State of Emergency is a rare post-apocalyptic movie that breeds some optimism.
Is it enough for this type of movie to just be perfectly okay considering the recent glut? I suppose, especially if it tries to separate itself tonally. State of Emergency is also a scrappy effort that wisely stays within its limits; while it indulges in some impressive splatter gags (and some that are digitally augmented, unfortunately), this isn’t an action-packed gorefest but rather an intimate story about confronting tragedy and trying to make it through the other side, however ham-handed and syrupy it may be at times. The film has apparently been kicking around for a while if the 2010 date at IMDb is any indication, but Image Entertainment is finally bringing it to Region 1 DVD. Like the film itself, the presentation is fine: the anamorphic transfer shows some artifacts here and there (which is likely due to the low budget source material in the first place), but the 5.1 track is quite lively and highlights a lot of the nuances in the soundtrack. Extra features include some deleted scenes, a making-of feature, and a visual effects featurette. The biggest disservice about this release is the marketing since the cover makes State of Emergency appear to be a big, action-packed zombie movie, which it most certainly is not. That said, the cover would also lead you to believe that it’s pretty much just like every other zombie movie from the past few years—which it kind of is. Rent it!
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