Undead, a new horror film from the land down under, is one of those movies that would have been vastly improved had it started where it ends up. After spending the first 90 minutes running through the usual zombie-movie tropes, first-time feature filmmakers Peter and Michael Spierig push the story in an intriguing new direction in the last act, culminating in a terrific cliffhanger of a finale. Unfortunately, the film concludes just as it's starting to get interesting. It's true that a good movie should always leave you wanting more, but it should also give you more incentive to keep watching along the way.
Originally filmed in 2001, Undead has taken some time to reach cinemas, mainly because the Spierigs financed the movie with their own cash. The press notes describe how the brothers shot the film over an intensive 41-day schedule and then spent the next year editing it-and adding their own visual effects-on their laptops. (Undead eventually hit Australian cinemas in 2003 and was picked up by Lions Gate sometime thereafter.) In short, these are savvy guys and their movie is nothing if not technically proficient. The blood and gore look as good here as they do in most studio-produced horror movies, and the filmmakers even come up with a new F/X trick when one zombie has its upper torso ripped off, leaving only its bare spine atop its legs. Earlier on, there's a funny bit involving some zombie fish that attempt to eat their captor's brain. Scenes like this indicate that the Spierigs' sensibilities lie less with George Romero and more with the early oeuvre of Peter Jackson. In movies like Bad Taste and Dead Alive (or, as it's known by purists, Braindead), Jackson mixed extreme gore and broad comedy with a maniacal glee that delights horror fans and disgusts virtually everyone else. The Spierigs aren't as consistently creative as Jackson-or Romero, for that matter-but at least they understand that zombie movies often benefit from a healthy sense of humor.
While Undead shows that the brothers have the technical skills to make a movie (although they need to hire a better cinematographer in the future-it's difficult to tell what's going on at times because the images are so muddy), they still need a lot of work in the storytelling department. Things start out simply enough when fragments from a strange meteor bombard a small Australian town and transform the populace into mindless zombies. A small band of survivors, including the local beauty queen, a married couple, and a grizzled loner who has a way with firearms that would make John Woo envious, do battle with the walking dead while attempting to get the hell out of Dodge. From here, the plot gets considerably more convoluted as a mysterious alien race appears and starts snatching people up into the sky. These twin threads ultimately come together quite effectively, but until then it feels like the Spierigs are just trying to stretch out what would otherwise be a routine zombie massacre. The bland characters and lackluster pacing don't help matters. Undead is unlikely to satisfy horror fans-particularly those who have just come from Romero's masterful Land of the Dead-but the Spierigs might have a future in this genre if they put more effort and imagination into their scripts.