Directed by Matthias Hoene
Distributed by The Scream Factory
There’s a very good chance many won’t agree with this assessment, but thanks to such a massive acceptance from pop culture zombies have now joined vampires as another cinematic monstrosity that has been milked to death and lost its impact. The popularity of zombie projects had been growing steadily until 2010, when The Walking Dead hit the scene and took zombie fever to a new height. Now that they’re all the rage, hardly a week goes by without some new flesh-eating flick hitting store shelves. And that isn’t hyperbole. A quick trip over to IMDb shows more than 50 (!) zombie films have been released this year alone, and there are no signs of the rapid fire pace slowing. But it should. It really should, because with a few exceptions most of the films are terrible and even fewer manage to bring anything new to the table. I’d be happy with some unique origin stories at this point, since most take the approach of not explaining how the dead came to rise up. But who cares, right? ”Just get to eating people”, most say.
That isn’t enough, though, and the onus should be placed directly on writers and directors to craft memorable tales that venture outside the norm. That seemed to be the case with Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012) thanks to a raucous trailer that presented some good situational humor alongside the de rigueur gore zombie films are required to showcase. Plus, the English still had some goodwill left over all these years later thanks to the smashing success (amongst fans, at least) of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004). Obviously something with a title akin to a Godzilla flick isn’t going for originality; it’s setting up a match and hoping you care enough to watch. There are some good moments peppered throughout, and some surprisingly nasty practical gore gags, but ultimately it boils down to how much we like these characters – half of which make it fun, the other half do their best to drag it down.
Two construction workers in London’s East End unearth an ancient tomb dating back to 1666, pry it open (who wouldn’t?), and are promptly consumed by two decrepit corpses anxious for a meal. Meanwhile, across town a group of desperate novice criminals – led by brothers Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway), and their unstable “friend” Mickey (Ashley Bashy Thomas) – attempt to rob a bank, a prospect at which they fail miserably. It doesn’t matter much, however, since as the robbery was taking place all of London was being overrun by hordes of the undead, which apparently was accomplished in less time than it takes to watch this movie. Impressive. The group decides to make a break for the coast so they can escape on a boat, but first Terry & Andy have to stop by the retirement home to grab their grandpa, Ray (Alan Ford, best remembered as “Brick Top” in Snatch), an old-school Cockney hardass who refuses to run from danger, and his geriatric friends.
The best parts of Cockneys vs. Zombies take place at the retirement home. In fact, the film as a whole likely would have been much better had it taken place there entirely. The film goes for the low-hanging fruit of placing these aging, deteriorating seniors into situational humor scenes with zombies that are just as aged and decrepit. For example, one scene has an octogenarian making a very sluggish retreat from a zombie by way of a walker, with the flesh eater slowly ambling behind him, nipping at his heels. I’m amazed a denture joke didn’t work its way in somehow. These scenes are funny enough in their own way, but the inclusion of Alan Ford into the mix really sets them off. He’s an actor full of panache and piss, chewing through scenery like it was a hot meal. He’s criminally underused in the film, and by that I mean he should’ve been the star, not second banana to a group of dimwitted would-be robbers. But he gets his moments. Quite a few of them, in fact. And he continues to fight the good fight right up to the end. He’s the linchpin holding this film together, and is easily the best reason to watch it.
The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable. Unlike, say, Shaun of the Dead, there aren’t any characters that resonate with the audience. The ostensible leads, Terry and Andy, are a couple of never-was brothers who decide robbing a bank is the absolute best possible way to get money so they can help save their grandpa’s retirement home. Calling them dim-witted would be perfectly apt, but they play more like the dimwits of the group and less like the two leads that are intended to eventually “save the day” and all that jazz. No one else in their ragtag group stands out either, save for “Mental” Mickey who at least injects his scenes with a heavy dose of insanity and bad decision making. The rest are there to make good zombie fodder.
The film does succeed (mostly) in that sense. There’s a lot of practical effect here, with some truly nasty gore gags that’ll keep ardent fans of the ol’ classic pull-apart feasting style happy. I only wish the entire film had maintained that aesthetic, as there are almost as many bad CGI moments that look straight out of something SyFy produced. Films should choose a style and stick with it. If you want to impress viewers with practical work then do whatever you can to make every scene of bloodletting a tangible one. If you feel like doing it on the cheap and going all CGI, then run with that. But when films decide on a combination of the two it usually ends up pleasing no one. It’s jarring to see a real FX gag in one scene, and then immediately follow it up with some terrible computer imagery. There’s no synergy there.
Ultimately, Cockneys vs. Zombies is a film content with coasting along thanks to the minor novelty of its title. No new concepts are introduced, and much of the proceedings feel like Shaun of the Dead-lite. Gut-munching gags can only take a movie so far, and with only scants bits of humor derived from the senior center to buttress the story there is much meat on these bones to satisfy for the remaining minutes. It’s a marginally fun romp through London’s East End; an easy viewing that isn’t a total slog to get through but it doesn’t hold much in the way of repeat viewings.
The recently released blu-ray comes home courtesy of Shout! Factory with a splendid audio/video presentation alongside a smattering of extra features. The 2.35:1 1080p image is highly proficient, sporting a crisp appearance that delivers fine detail in spades. The film was shot digitally, so it would be right to expect a pristine image virtually free of grain or obtrusive noise elements. It does look like the color palette has been de-saturated a bit, resulting in a dull, gray quality to the picture. While this has the negative effect of muting colors and not allowing for much to “pop” off the screen, it benefits the zombie mayhem by allowing all the bits of blood and gore to stand out amongst all the action. Very little of the film takes place at night, too, which allows for strong lighting that bolsters definition. For a low-budget production the wise stylistic decisions, and slick cinematography, makes this look like a bigger picture. The audio is no slouch, either. The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track displays impressive fidelity that makes the most of the multi-channels afforded to it. The bass track is particular is positively booming with the roar of gunfire and howls of the undead. There is good separation here, allowing the many effects employed during action-heavy scenes to remain discrete and audibly clear. Many of the film’s effects deftly pan between speakers, creating an immersive soundfield on par with more expensive films. I’d say dialogue is clear and distinct within the mix – and it is – but a Yank like me sure had one helluva time deciphering those thick-as-a-brick Cockney accents. Thankfully, Shout! has included English subtitles so you can keep up with the plot.
On the supplemental side of things, we start off with a pair of audio commentaries. The first features director Matthias Hoene, who uses his track to explain some of the deeper meanings behind the film, script changes, casting, as well as many other technical details regarding the production. It’s a bit stuffy, but there’s some worthwhile info in there. Second up, writer James Moran steps in to deliver his thoughts on the project. He’s a bit self-deprecating, critically examining some of his writing decisions and wishing he’d amended a few of them. Original Look Behind the Scenes is a nearly-30 minute featurette that covers a number of the film’s aspects, including a look at the characters, how they filmed the bank robbery, designing the care home, practical FX, and much more. There is also a reel of deleted scenes, running for around six minutes. These are available with optional commentary by either director Matthias Hoene, or writer James Moran. Finally, the film’s trailer wraps things up in the extras department.
Cockneys vs. Zombies offers up a somewhat unique take on a now-old hat premise by pitting the walking dead against a ragtag group of survivors. If only they’d kept the focus on Alan Ford and his aging compatriots, then this could have been something more enjoyable. As it stands the film is an effortless watch with a few laughs, but most of the humor is lost under thick accents – or it’s simply “too British” for most across the pond to connect with. It earns equal amounts of applause and derision for utilizing practical effects alongside CGI enhancements that simply don’t gel on screen. If you haven’t hit “zombie fatigue” yet, this might be worth checking out. But if you’re dead tired of the same old-same old, this isn’t going to galvanize your interest.
2 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5