Dead Season (2011)

I’ve gone through a full week of October without a single zombie movie and that just cannot stand. I was this close to giving you Juan of the Dead today but I’ve done several comedies already. Instead I opted for one that plays it straight. I should have known better.

There is no more generic zombie film naming convention than Dead [noun]. You can put literally anything in there and imagine a plot around it. For example:

Dead Tree – Once you’ve tasted its fruit, you’ll keep coming back for more.

Dead Floor – For the privileged residents of this high-rise, nothing is off limits. Except the penthouse.

Dead Party – Put out the best silver, the guests are hungry.

This is not difficult. So it’s a complete mystery when producers slap together meaningless names like Dead Season. The title is two words long and fully 50% of it has NOTHING to do with the story.

They’ve got board games and booze. Why exactly are they fleeing?

The story: Zombie outbreak, everyone dies, blah blah blah. Former EMT Elvis works his way down to sunny Florida where a ham radio buddy is willing to trade him a boat in exchange for canned goods, allowing him to get off the mainland. Why he’s convinced that’ll do any good remains as mysterious as why the word “season” is in the title.

Along the way he picks up a lady who calls herself Tweeter and a boy named Cody. They buy their boat and set sail for a life of leisure in a tropical paradise. To everyone’s tremendous surprise, that plan is not completely successful.

Dramamine! I knew I forgot something!

Biggest letdown: First thing’s fucking first: you cannot call zombies “walkers” and not expect fanboys (your target demographic) to go berserk at the obvious crib from the Walking Dead television series. Granted, that show wasn’t the first to use the word but it’s certainly dominating the field at the moment. Dead Season probably started production just before The Walking Dead first aired in 2010 but that doesn’t excuse not re-shooting or at least dubbing over what the survivors call undead. I was thinking scabs might be a novel name but you could call them widgets and it would be an improvement. It’s funny because I’d bet a testicle this movie was originally called Dead Island but had to change its name to avoid confusion with the 2011 video game. And that’s not even the letdown, it’s just weird.

Um, you first.

The letdown is that this movie very quickly devolves into a worn out “the living are the real monsters” trope, which is just ridiculous. Monsters are the real monsters; people are just assholes. I wasn’t wild about that part of 28 Days Later (and The Walking Dead comics, for that matter) but at least there was some justification behind the savage acts of the army guys. In Dead Season we have a paramilitary compound that very closely resembles the one in 28 Days Later, but the guys running it are routinely villainous for no reason. There doesn’t seem to be any necessity driving their cruelty. They just unanimously decided the best policy was to encourage a culture of sadistic hardassery. Again, to their amazement, this strategy does not pan out.

If anyone knows a better team-building exercise, I’m all ears.

Why you should watch: The many thinly-veiled plagiarisms that contaminate this movie are most frustrating because they obscure a number of really decent ideas. Dead Season is clearly superior to typical independent zombie movies, and it’s miles beyond most every Asylum-produced Syfy shitshow. Scott Peat and Marissa Merrill (Elvis and Tweeter), for example, are delightfully understated heroes. You definitely root for them to make it out alive and together. (And naked. They’re both unreasonably attractive, as required by the horror movie code, but in such unconventional ways you don’t pick up on it until well into the movie.)

Likes: long walks on the beach, machetes.

What really separates this movie from the shambling horde of garbage behind it is it doesn’t succumb to the temptation to fill up on empty calorie banter and lunging teeth behind every dark corner. The director is willing to devote quite a lot of scenes (especially given the truncated 85-minute runtime) to silent, scoreless meanderings through a wasted jungle in search of food, setting up the central struggle against starvation rather well. The downside is that, while the production team took stuff like character direction and mood seriously, appallingly little attention is paid to the physical battles against the undead. The fight scenes are bland and haphazard. It’s difficult to explain why sometimes the zombies lack the coordination to bite exposed human flesh when it literally hits them in the face, yet other times the good guys perceive no way out when those same zombies surround them in a beachfront bar.

This place used to be cool.

Memorable Moment: The second act climax, completely violating zombie movie regs, is NOT a big gunfight or action set piece, or even the dramatic death of a main character. Rather, it’s the gruesome amputation of a big piece of the survivors’ collective humanity. As it was happening I was sure it would destroy any remaining interest I had in the film. Yet despite my skepticism, it turned out to be a welcome change of direction.

Choice quote: “You treat your survival with an astonishing lack of urgency. You’re lazy, you’re sloppy and, unbelievably, you’re fat. How does that happen?”

About the Rating System

4 Responses to “Dead Season (2011)”

  1. […] 31 Flavors of Terror A terrifying movie terror-thon of terror « Dead Season (2011) […]

  2. […] A few weeks ago I said Dead [noun] was the most generic possible name for a zombie movie. I stand corrected. Hats off to The Dead for coming within one three-letter word of whittling its title down to irreducible, subatomic simplicity. So close! […]

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