It’s a familiar cry, to any comedian who’s tried to make a joke about a current event (usually a tragedy) or a filmmaker who’s used a current event as a plot point for their movie, particularly a bad horror movie. It can be a hit-and-miss affair, depending on the nature of the tragedy, the way it’s handled and the audience it’s intended for. Some events we think may always be too soon (is director/writer Matt Gibson still making TOWERS OF TERROR, where the planes crashing into the Twin Towers unleash jihadist zombies onto the survivors of the buildings? Dude, seriously have a think about that…).
On the other hand, previous generations would have thought that it would always be too soon to exploit the Nazis and their atrocities, and you can fill a shelf with the number of horror films featuring Nazis making or using zombies or saving Hitler’s brain (and in fact, the first one of its type, KING OF THE ZOMBIES, was made in 1941). Later, every psycho film of the late 60s and 70s seemed Vietnam War-twisted (and in 1980’s CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, Vietnam vets brought back a virus that turned them into zombies).
In our current climate, the War in Afghanistan has produced a mini-genre of horror films set during the conflict: THE OBJECTIVE (2008), SAND SERPENTS and RED SANDS. And now to be added to it is OSOMBIE, subtitled THE AXIS OF EVIL DEAD. Which pretty much tells you where they want to go with this.
We open at night time, at a Pakistani compound on May 2, 2011: American Special Forces sneak inside, all night-vision goggles and heavy weapons. Someone hits a button on the wall, and doors roll up, releasing a horde of shambling, groaning, flesh-hungry ghouls. But the soldiers are ready, delivering plenty of headshots, though one of their number gets nit (so, I guess they weren’t all *that* prepared). Deep inside the compound, a familiar-looking figure is injecting himself with some glowing juice that looks like a knock-off of old Herbert West’s secret formula, just in time to get shot down. Yes, Bin Laden’s dead! Say hi to Hitler for us!
The body is wrapped and up and the soldiers take it to their chopper (GET TO DA CHOPPA! Sorry, by law you have to say the line in Arnold’s accent if anyone mentions choppers), but over the water, the bitten soldier starts to react, and the body in the sheet starts to move. In the chaos, Bin Laden’s body is flung into the sea (so now you know why they really did that). Crisis over.
Except for the couple on a nearby beach (because the resort facilities near Afghanistan are so bitching?) who go for a swim. The woman disappears (girl, haven’t you seen any horror movie ever made?), but the Bin Laden Zombie emerges.
After the titles, we cut to the present day, and a ragtag team of soldier stereotypes are deep in Afghanistan (filmed deep in Utah, which I imagine is just as dangerous). They have the usual personalities and the usual nicknames (Bravo, Chapo, Joker, Herc, Whiskey, Thunder, and the token tomboy, Tomboy, though at least they don’t make her a lesbian as well), and there’s a token English guy in there to give it appeal to us Brits (thanks, you really didn’t have to). On the plus side, we’re not kept waiting, as a swarm of zombified indigenous hostiles appear, and the battle begins within seconds. On the minus side, however, it’s all in SyFy-level CGI, for gunshots as well as the swordplay (Tomboy carries a sword, which I didn’t realise what standard issue with the Army these days; admittedly the actress, Danielle Chuchran, looks like she can actually use the thing). Some of it verges on the pathetic, with guns being fired literally inches away from other people’s ears without them even flinching, not to mention getting any splatter on them. The battle’s all jokey banter – until Whiskey gets killed, and the music gets somber, and everyone pulls That Face. Although at this point I’m thinking the filmmaker can’t have it both ways, wanting to be both fun and serious.
Meanwhile we cut to a civilian, a yoga instructor (why is that relevant enough to be mentioned? Don’t know) Dusty (Eve Mauro, ZOMBIES VS STRIPPERS) has arrived in Afghanistan looking for her brother Derek (Jasen Wade, DEAD WEST), a former firefighter who it turns out called in sick the morning of 9/11, surviving when the rest of his team were killed, and was driven by guilt to go there and find bin Laden himself, whom he believes is still alive). Dusty’s guide is attacked and killed by local zombies, but she’s rescued by Our Heroes. They then explain their own mission there: to find the last remains of the experimental zombie-making drug, Godsmack (what, we couldn’t get some of their songs onto the soundtrack?), which the Taliban are using to turn willing volunteers into flesh-eating ghouls. There’s an argument later where they try to compare this as being no different from being a suicide bomber, but given that the zombies prove to be not particular about who they bite, whether it’s believer or infidel, I can’t see that comparison holding up (besides, wouldn’t they have been better unleashing it in America?). We then segue way between Dusty and Our Heroes, and Derek, who meets a lost boy and gives him some American candy (we’re not going to be spared any war movie cliché here) before they eventually meet, and make their way to the militant camp, where an army of zombies are ready to be unleashed…
First, the positives. The actors do their jobs, and their characters dress, act and feel realistic even as they wallow in hoary old war movie tropes (we get the scene where one guy gets bit, and no one wants to finish him off despite all they know about what happens to the bitten ones, and there’s the guy who makes a joke he dies. And then there’s that scene you get in every action movie, where a guy almost gets killed, and he unloads his entire clip into the one who nearly got him, despite the need to conserve their ammunition). And there’s some amusing banter regarding zombies (for instance, do they eat and excrete into their clothes, or will their bowels someday explode?)
The movie keeps moving, at least until it lags towards the third act after the parties are united, and there are many shots of character-establishing conversation. It’s primarily action-oriented, but the director does come up with one or two memorable scenes, such as when three of Our Heroes find themselves surrounded by IEDs, and then zombies emerge from the trees; talk about a rock and a hard place…
And the makeup for the zombies is quite impressive, along with keeping them slow and shambling (hey, I’m a traditionalist). Pity about the CGI, and the lack of actual gut-munching (I know, Romero left me feeling spoiled). Some attempt is made to hide the CGIness of it (there are times when the ‘splatter’ hits the camera lens) but it’s tough to ignore, especially when it becomes so obvious.
As for the negatives, such as those mentioned above, well, anyone expecting a political satire will be disappointed; the zombies are a gimmick, just like when the Nazis used them in KING OF THE ZOMBIES. And you don’t even get to hear the dead Bin Laden rant like Hitler’s head did in NAZIS AT THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH (but then, we didn’t want to hear what the old bastard had to say when he was alive). The director and writer has obviously taken the notion of bin Laden as a zombie and hoped that would be enough of a selling point.
And it ends on a note that is preposterous, with a capital P. When I saw it, I kept saying to myself No Fucking Way. I don’t want to spoilt it – but I will: Derek, the civilian goofball who proves to get more done in the movie than the actual soldiers, manages to corner Zombie Bin Laden deep in the caves and blows him, and himself, and all the ammunition surrounding them, up with a rocket grenade, but later, Derek manages to catch up with his sister and Our Heroes, unharmed, untouched and still making us Dereks look bad. Come on!
Okay, so it’s not the greatest zombie movie you’ll see this year. Or any year. It’s a time-filler, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just know what you’re going in for. The trailer is here and the movie is available everywhere on DVD and VOD.
Director: John Lyde
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 3 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien