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Zombie Diaries, The (2007)

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The Zombie Diaries (click for larger image)Starring Russell Jones, Craig Stovin, James Fisher, Anna Blades, Imogen Church

Directed by Michael Bartlett & Kevin Gates


These days to find a filmmaker or two who want to actually do something new with the zombie sub genre seems increasingly difficult. Perhaps, though, that’s because we’re only casting our gaze across the United States, when we should be looking to our brothers under the Union Jack, the Brits.

Enter Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates (read our interview with them here) who managed to blend some over-used concepts (zombies, Blair-Witch style filmmaking) into something that actually feels (*gasp*) fresh as a newly executed corpse. And I mean that in a good way. Not that The Zombie Diaries is going to be blowing doors off schools of thought or making filmmakers question their place in the genre, but at least it tries to do something we haven’t seen before.

Before I go any further yes, the plot o f Zombie Diaries is similar to George A. Romero’s next outing, Diary of the Dead. Having not seen the latter, however, I don’t really know how similar, I just know that Zombie Diaries was a concept before Romero’s’ film was announced.

All right, so with that out of the way here’s how Zombie Diaries breaks down; told in four parts, the film first lays out the initial outbreak of zombies in London, though we don’t actually see London besieged by the dead; the directors were clever enough to put us in the hands of team of documentary filmmakers who are concocting a story about the disease, before it’s actually know what it is, who have to travel to the remote countryside for a new interview. While they’re there they have car problems, and when they call back to London to let their people know they learn that pretty much the whole city is in lock down.

The Zombie Diaries review (click to see it bigger)As the team explores a nearby house for possible shelter, the first zombie makes an appearance and it’s pretty damn creepy I have to admit; the nice thing about making a movie like this is it’s in the hands of someone who’s using a camera the way you or I would, so they can swing around and catch something freaky without having to worry about a musical cue or sudden fancy camera moves to evoke fear; it’s just fucking unsettling to see something there all of a sudden.

This segment lasts only about 20 minutes before we move on from their story, quite abruptly I thought, to a tale set a month into the outbreak. We find a few stragglers out looking for food and provisions and the issues they run into when they try to get out of the car. Though this segment takes a bit to produce any real scares, the tension is palpable as they enter a seemingly abandoned market, having to stay alert the entire time lest a ghoul sneak up on them.

Then we get to the third and longest segment, about a band of survivors holed up in what appears to be some kind of abandoned farm facility; they’re making their way day-to-day, dealing with zombies getting into their camp. Slowly they realize that there’s something in one building in particular that’s drawing the attention of the flesheaters; their discovery as to what it is issues us into the fourth and final story, but I will leave that for the viewers to experience. I’ll give you a hint; it makes the zombies seem like the nice guys.

The Zombie Diaries review (click to see it bigger)What works so well about Zombie Diaries is that you never really feel like these people are acting or hamming it up for the camera. Sure not everyone is playing their part to 100% perfection, but for what I’m sure was a loose script and a difficult shoot they do an admirable job.

But really, it’s all about the undead scares. Though it’s not overflowing with buckets of gore, the potential for a zombie to be around every corner, to just jump out at the camera without any notice or obvious musical cue, is always there and will keep you on edge for a good portion of the run time. The social/humanistic commentary that presents itself at the end feels a little out of place, and like I said some of the footage just ends without any gusto (and would it have been difficult to explain why all this random footage was edited together?), but as an overall package it does work pretty well.

Those of you who suffered motion sickness issues from Blair Witch should rest somewhat easy; though there are moments of outright panic, the camera’s not nearly as erratic or shaky as in the indie favorite.

Though it does suffer from some first time issues, the pacing is off here and there and some characters vanish too easily, Zombie Diaries is still fresh and original enough to entice most horror fans to give it a chance, I think. The inevitable question of how it will stack up against Romero’s similarly-themed Diary of the Dead is up in the air for now … but it sure could be in worse company!

3 1/2 out of 5

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IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor

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Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.

On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.

The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.

While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.

What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.

While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.

  • Alive in New Light
5.0

Summary

IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.

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The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell

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Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law

Directed by John Law


I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.

The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.

The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.

  • Film
3.5

Summary

The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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