Starring Scott Adkins, Bruce Payne, Daniella Alonso
Directed by Valeri Milev
Although After Dark Films’ “8 Films to Die For” seemed to meet a quiet end just a few years back, we announced this summer that a new partnership with 20th Century Fox was able to give new life to the series, the films from which will finally premiere this Friday. Given that the series has produced a handful of some pretty great genre entries in the past (The Gravedancers, Frontier(s), Lake Mungo), this is exciting news for those of us who love a chance to seek out the hidden horror gems that do not always make it to wide release. This also means that Valeri Milev’s Re-Kill, one of the long-anticipated entries from After Dark Films (we first reported on the film in 2010!), will finally see its long-awaited debut this weekend. So the question remains: Was this one worth the wait of almost five years?
The film begins in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has taken over 85% of the planet’s population. In this world, humans are still in the midst of war with zomb– er, Re-Animates (“Re-Ans” here). These Re-Ans have been segregated into off-limits zones that are policed by a S.W.A.T.-style task force known as the R-Division (think Resident Evil’s S.T.A.R.S. team). In this world, “Re-Kill” is the most popular guerrilla style news show on television, following R-Division units regularly and documenting their attempts to keep their respective divisions safe by “re-killing” off the undead. After the death of a “Re-Kill” field reporter during an unsuspecting attack, novice videographer Jimmy Mitchell assumes the role for the program, particularly following the R-Division 8 team. As the team descends into multiple danger zones and the camera keeps rolling, we come to fear that perhaps Jimmy is capturing the final moments in the lives of these modern-day soldiers.
Given that “The Walking Dead” is now in its sixth season and we have all seen more than a few cinematic spins on the zombie apocalypse tale over the last decade, its safe to say that Re-Kill has always had its fare share of challenges to overcome if it was ever to make any kind of mark in the horror community. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of film that has not particularly benefited from sitting on the shelf for five years, as nothing about it is particularly ahead of its time. The film plays out as an extended episode of “Re-Kill,” complete with commercial breaks and a guiding commentary from our unseen videographer. To its credit, this device starts off as a rather interesting way of dipping in on a day in the life of men and women fighting for what’s left of the world. This primetime structure, introduced on a television screen in an abandoned suburban home in the film’s opening moments, is at times quite a bit of fun — especially when Michael Hurst’s script dips into comedic territory via the futuristic commercials (more on that later). However, the overarching story lags more often than not, and a lack of meaningful character development cuts a lot of the intended narrative impact once we start losing characters.
The apocalyptic battlefield backdrop of Re-Kill is an all-too-familiar one and Milev’s virus-ridden wasteland offers nothing new by way of visual stimulation; our Re-An-thrashing soldiers are fearlessly self-assured, the once thriving city backdrop constantly emits post-explosion smoke, our civilian’s camera movement is frenzied and stomach-turning, and the hordes of the undead descend upon our soldiers swiftly and without warning. These tropes are not at all executed poorly here, but they are also things we have seen done to more fresh and exciting degrees in Dawn of the Dead, Quarantine, and even the Resident Evil series.
While well-worn subgenre cliches can occasionally be overlooked at times when a film can produce rich characters or drama instead, this sadly not the case with Re-Kill. In fact, the bulk of our team members on which we find heavy focus placed — particularly religious fanatic Winston (Payne) and macho war veteran Parker (Adkins) — are quite insufferable. It’s a shame that Falkirk, an R-Division rookie and the most endearing of the first characters we meet, doesn’t last longer, as he would have provided a nice reprieve to the misplaced religious rantings or obnoxious displays of overt masculinity we’re subjected to in Winston and Parker’s one-on-ones with Jimmy. To its credit, the post-death character “confessionals” that air after team members meet their end effectively touch on the emotional weight it’s clear Milev and Hurst were going for in the main narrative arc. It would have been refreshing to showcase more genuine moments like these that focused on the humanity behind these post-apocalyptic soldiers.
Elsewhere, another issue that plagues the large middle chunk of the film is its pacing. For a film set in a zombie warzone, there are disappointingly few exciting action sequences and plot turns (it is very straightforward story of R-Division infiltrating various dangerous Re-An zones). While many of the shootouts and zombie attacks come in quick waves that may have been aimed to reflect the realism of war journalism, they also get muddled, unfocused, and a bit repetitive by the midpoint. This does make the occasional times in which we do get closeups of an impressive decaying corpse or a scene that relies heavily on suspense all the more enjoyable, though they are few and far between for much of the film. Luckily, Re-Kill does find a groove in the last fifteen minutes that provides some of the most enjoyable action, beginning with an awesomely threatening overhead shot of a hoard of Re-Ans in an abandoned area of New York City called The Zone. At one point earlier in the film Sarge (Roger R. Cross, one of the few consistently tolerable characters) openly admits that he knows humans will never win this war; it’s only in this moment quite late in the film that we absolutely understand why, a real vision of the world in which R-Division fights that would been nice to have seen more of.
While the core story is inarguably uneven here, the aforementioned commercial breaks between our time in the war zone are a winky riot, even if they often feel like they belong in an entirely different film (namely Starship Troopers). These ads actually take up a good portion of the film and range from PSA’s that promote smoking (because cigarettes won’t kill you any faster than the Re-Ans will) to ads that try to entice everyone to have sex for the sake of procreation (“Good for her, good for him, good for America.”). My personal favorites were segments in which civilians — a dimwitted Texan and a ditzy bad girl — recount where they were the day the learned about the virus. These scenes are played straight to the best effect (I’d compare them to a faux news segment from The Onion), and although they in effect highlight how much less interesting the main storyline is, I admittedly may have enjoyed the film more had it refocused its overall tone in a way that allowed for more of this.
Re-Kill is not going to shed new light on the zombie apocalypse or found footage subgenres, but it does feature some notable bright spots that make it worth the watch, probably more so if you are taking it in with the whole of the 2015 “8 Films to Die For” selections. It’s a shame, though, since I feel like we could have had something particularly unique for the often stale subgenre here with some tighter pacing and a more focused tone. There are definitely some spirited ideas at work underneath what is otherwise heavily treaded ground, and it’s a shame that they weren’t completely realized. For a studio that has produced some very underrated staples in modern horror, Re-Kill is hardly an unforgivable misstep for After Dark Films, and I still have faith that there will be some noteworthy efforts in this new crop of films. For me, this is just not one of them.