SIFF Film Review – Cockneys vs Zombies
Zombie movies are a dead genre—or perhaps even an undead genre (despite being dead, they just keep coming and coming and coming). It wasn’t always this way. I fondly remember a time when I would look forward to a new zombie movie, when the zombie market wasn’t so oversaturated, and filmmakers would attempt to bring something new to the genre. Lately, I approach every new zombie movie with dread, thinking, god, not another one, what’s the gimmick now? How about we add in funny British people? Oh, wait. That’s been done before. With Cockneys vs Zombies, the film’s lack of creativity and ingenuity is apparent right from the title. There’s nothing new to see here, nothing fresh, no unique stake to claim. The somewhat fortunate thing, however, is that this isn’t a horrible movie. I genuinely laughed at times and the film is decently acted and decently made. But that’s just it: it’s decent.
The film begins by establishing two related bands of unlikely heroes: the young lads who deem it wise to rob a bank and the old codgers residing in a nursing home doomed to demolition. Twin brothers Andy (Harry Treadaway) and Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) devise this bank heist in order to save their grandfather Ray’s (Alan Ford) retirement home from being reconstructed into a swanky new apartment complex. They enlist the aid of their cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan), because she’s a champ at safe-cracking and lock-picking. They also bring on board a duo of stock characters to flesh out the crew: the crazed war veteran with a metal plate in his head and his idiot, comic-relief sidekick. What this merry band of robbers didn’t factor into their equation was that an excavation has unleashed an ancient zombie plague on London.
Cue the hijinks. This film, consistently, is more funny than scary, but even then, the joke swiftly gets old. Add to this the fact the film never escapes the shadow of its much more funny and original predecessor, Shaun of the Dead. The plot follows the two bands of heroes as they fend off their separate hordes of zombies, and the best portions of the film include the old retirees fending off the waves of undead attacking the nursing home. There’s the funny scene where a shuffling old man has to race against a shuffling zombie that is the best among many. These old codgers can fight. Of course they can: they survived the blitz. This group of elderly war vets saves the film. They are endearing and indomitable and lend the film its much needed charm. There’s nothing like a cursing old biddy with a shotgun blasting off the heads of zombies to get you smiling.
Unfortunately, the younger crew doesn’t match up. They’re boring, bland, and often annoying. Too many times they’re caught in a huddle arguing over their next move when—surprise! Zombies! It almost becomes a running joke, but a joke that wasn’t very funny or original the first time and yields diminishing returns each successive time it happens. By the fourth or fifth zombie attack, I just wanted them to all die already. But for the purpose of plot, they must necessarily venture across the East End of London to get to the nursing home to save their granddad for a spectacularly anticlimactic final act. The whole film weaves together the desperate struggles of both groups as the young chavs edge closer and closer to the nursing home. There is a cumulative tension that builds and builds to nothing. Director Matthias Hoene and screenwriters James Moran and Lucas Roche have produced a redundant and rote story that is all buildup and no payoff.
But the blood. Gore fans, this film is for you. Hoene does a good job of ratcheting up the violence and presenting some impressive blood and visual effects. There are some unique and effective death sequences in this film that work to shake the viewer, but unfortunately—at least when it comes to the gang of thieves—the most interesting characters are killed off first. The characters who make it to the grand finale are not those I would have liked.
This movie wants to be Shaun of the Dead’s brutal cousin, but it forgets that Shaun was intelligent, emotional, and extremely witty. This film has sight gags and cursing old coots that make for a laugh or two, but the humor functions at a completely base level. The film is fun, though. There is a charm to the broken accents and the old fuddy duddies arming themselves with an impressive array of weapons and unflinchingly taking down wave after wave of the undead while swearing like sailors. This movie wasn’t a chore. I found myself smiling throughout and every so often I laughed. It’s a decent movie, but it’s nothing new. I would have liked more originality, more wit, more endearing characters, more heart. But, this is a horror movie, a zombie movie, and I’ve come to expect less of them. If you go in with these low expectations, you’ll have a good time.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with director Matthias Hoene at SIFF 2013.