Written, directed by, and starring Gary Ugarek, 2006’s DEADLANDS: THE RISING aims for low budget zombie glory and just falls short. It’s not its lack of budget, or untrained actors, it’s the fact that the movie is as sharp as a cue ball and just as much fun to stick into your eyes.
The story unravels with a soccer mom’s journal entry recounting the days that led to the zombie apocalypse in the exact same way Sarah Connor waxes philosophical about Judgement Day. Apparently some terrorist attack or chemical spill has wiped out much of humanity 6 months ago, so lets flashback to how it all started, shall we?
Two buddies meet up to go boozing and shoot stuff. Dad of the year, leaves his wife and kid behind, meets his recently divorced compadre, and then head out into the wilderness to do manly man things and stuff, which means mixing alcohol and firearms while berating the institution of marriage. Please also keep in mind that all television, Internet, and phones have been mysteriously knocked out, but talk radio lives on. Half tanked after downing their six pack targets, they soon hear the reports that the government and local law enforcement have issued curfews and set up FEMA style community centers for those displaced by an unknown dilemma. Now Dad and sidekick must make their way back to his family and figure out a way to survive as they discover the advancing zombie horde. Yup, that’s basically the plot. No real explanation to who anyone is, or what is causing the chaos. At about an hour in length you’d think this would keep a steady pace, but I’ve had more fun waiting for my food to show up at Applebee’s. At least this movie can’t give you explosive diarrhea.
The special effects are severely lackluster. The only stand out is a decent throat rip from a zombie attack that turns the community center into a slaughterhouse. The zombie makeup is pretty much on par with the original DAWN OF THE DEAD, hand painted Halloween fare, minus all the fun of the kill sprees and head shots. A talented effects artist would have helped put a proper shine to this flick, at least offering something to the genre fans that are willing to tolerate its run time, but you can’t polish a turd. The biggest offense is that it takes 26 minutes out of this hour long time sucker to finally deliver a zombie on screen.
The cinematography is okay, accomplishing what it needs to and at least staying in focus. There’s an overabundance of slow motion shots that seem to drag out this film even further. It looks as if it was lit with work lights from Home Depot, but the musical score gives it an 80s style vibe of cheaply made junk food cinema. The musical accompaniment is the only thing that seems to keep a sense of tempo and pace throughout the film. Intercut between is some gun play and people shouting, because in low budget film making the louder you are determines how respected the camera captures you.
The acting in this film is wooden, but it’s real. There’s no trained actors, only friends and family that are now owed bigger favors than these filmmakers could ever repay. There’s really no purpose for them until they can become zombies or victims. The saddest thing is that some of the back story could have been placed on these shoulders to carry the film forward. Sadder still would be having to sit through that. Producer Brian Wright and and Director Gary Ugarek definitely should have sprung to have anyone else but them play the film’s stars. Then they should have spent that time focusing more on what sinks this film instead of drinking beers and spouting cliches of dialogue that sound like they were written on wet naps from a Sports Bar happy hour.
The film disappoints because it exudes no love for the genre. No great effects sequences, no expansion of the zombie mythology, only a plot cooked up by weekend warriors to impress their drinking buddies. I could forgive the low budget delivery, and the cardboard acting, but there’s no plea to invest in the story or its characters. Even at an hour long, it’s too much to sit through. Personally, I would’ve loved to see more with the mother and child, but instead it’s boys night out as we tag along to be entertained by the mindnumbing dialogue and banter of these two ass clowns. Ultimately, there’s no one to connect to, no one to root for, except maybe the zombies, but their screen time is so brief, you feel as if you were the victim of a bait and switch scam. Don’t promise me porno and then not even flash me.
The DVD special features include the Nick Thompson short film I AM ZOMBIE MAN from Deadshed Productions. It’s a campy solo effort revealing what it’s like to be one of the walking dead. Producer Brian Wright and Director Gary Ugarek also take turns interviewing each other about how the film came to fruition, pulling double duty as actors, and the usual production headaches that plague no budget indie films. Here you’ll discover their half hearted plans of a sequel DEADLANDS 2: TRAPPED. The best part though are the trailers for the Mexican flavored zombie flick THE STINK OF FLESH, the time capsule release of 1990’s GHOUL SCHOOL, and Compound Pictures’s gang infested, street trash epic THE RED SKULLS. These trailers actually possess the ability to generate enough interest to be added to your Netflix queue if you’re still awake and drunk enough after watching DEADLANDS: THE RISING.