I’ve watched a lot of zombie-apocalypse films, and there are two essential problems with almost every film in the genre.
- The inevitable siege. Every zombie film (e.g. Land of the Dead, 28 Days/Weeks Later, Shaun of the Dead) sooner or later reaches the “siege” scene. It’s inevitable because there is nothing else one can do with zombies – they can’t talk, think or have sex – and so sooner or later it is just a crowd of them versus a small group of us; the zombies are outside, the humans are inside, and the zombies are hungry. The humans believe they have barricaded all the doors, but of course… And at this stage in the film, usually all the subtlety in the script disappears, with 28 Days Later being the worst offender, and Shaun of the Dead the best. When, for example, will we see the reverse of the siege, where the zombies are inside, and the humans need to get something they have?
None of it matters anyway. Zombie films are all about the end of the world, but they have an emotional blindspot; none of them seem to care that the world has been destroyed. Why should we be moved (in 28 Weeks Later) when Canary Wharf gets blown up, if all of Britain has already been wiped out? Who cares (in Land of the Dead) if the zombies win or lose one last battle, because sooner or later, they will die of starvation, and the humans will as well. Human global infrastructure has already collapsed – who is going to do the farming in this post-apocalyptic world? Land of the Dead has the stupidest ending possible: suddenly it seems that all of America’s zombies have been brought to this one city, and everything will be safe for the hero’s convoy to head to Canada – which, for never explained reasons, is free from zombies…
Shaun of the Dead is the best of the genre, and partly this is because the siege location has some actual emotional value (the pub), as do the relationships between the characters (the spurned father etc). But it’s also because the story muddies the line between living and undead: the English begin the film as pseudo-zombies, and end it as actual ones, with nothing substantial changed. Why are other zombie films so absolutist? One is either a calm human or a slavering beast, and there seems to be a law that these categories cannot be transgressed. I suggest any would-be screenwriter in this genre read the classic vampire-apocalypse novel “I am Legend”, which plays around with the reader’s expectations.
Specifically on “28 Weeks Later” – what a stupid film… Again and again one is presented with the unbelievable. For example:
Britain has been repopulated, but there are no politicians, only soldiers.
The army’s plan to resist the spread of infection is nonsensical: they imprison all the civilians in a room with an unlocked exit/entrance…
Even though he has fighter jets and helicopters, the commanding officer just watches blankly as the “ragers” run out of his perimeter fence.
Soldiers with flame throwers have no mobile backup, so they just watch in confusion as the heroes escape in a car.
The army seems unaware one of their helicopters is missing.
Neither the doctor nor the sniper attempt to have a dialogue with their superiors.
There is a “mystical connection” between mother, son and father as an attempt to compensate for the lack of plot.
28 Weeks Later seems to have been written as a bigger version of 28 Days Later, but it is actually much smaller – why do we never have a sense of the wider world in it, despite all the American accents?
PS If Cabin Fever can be included in the zombie-apocalypse category, then it is of course one of the best, and not only because it transgresses the no-sex-with-zombies rule.
Join the popular (& free) course
Sign up to receive six lessons: build your writing skills and tell your story.