Saturday, 26 April 2014

Zombies from Ireland

Director: Ryan Kift
Writers: Ryan Kift, Sian Davies
Producers: Ryan Kift, Sian Davies
Cast: Lots and lots of zombies plus some blokes from Big Brother
Country: UK
Year: 2013
Reviewed from: YouTube
Watch now – YouTube link at end of reviews

Here’s a fun little zero-budget feature which is far from being the worst zombie film that you or I have ever seen. Though thoroughly generic and cut-price for most of its 80 minutes, nevertheless there are several imaginative, original or memorable sequences which repay a watch – especially as the whole thing is free to view on YouTube anyway. In addition, Zombies from Ireland breaks new ground by being, I believe, the first feature-length British horror film shot dual-language with some scenes in English and some in Welsh (with English subtitles) and the first (partially) Welsh language zombie film.

There was a Welsh language horror film shot in 1974, Gwaed Ar Y Ser: Why Is This Man Green!?, which was rediscovered a few years ago, had a screening in New York in 2011 and possibly a broadcast on S4C in November 2013. About 30 seconds of this is online. There is also a 2009 short on YouTube called Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers), probably a few others too. But none of them have zombies.

The set-up of Zombies from Ireland is that prisoners in a Dublin gaol are being used as the subjects in unethical experiments to find a cure for swine flu. The British Government takes an interest and arranges for half a dozen of the test subjects to be brought to London, but to maintain secrecy they are shipped across the Irish Sea to Anglesey in a small private boat. But one or more of them turns into a zombie, the boat crashes on rocks (unseen of course) and one or more of the surviving zombies make it ashore where they set off a gradual chain reaction of gut-munching and infection.

All the above takes up the first 20 minutes, with scenes shot in laboratories and a real gaol cell (apparently). Added production value was provided by a quick trip to That London for establishing shots of things like a Tube station and the headquarters of the British Medical Association. There is no evidence of footage actually shot in Dublin but a large part of that ‘first act’ was shot at sea on a (very small) boat (provided by Go Angling My Way Sea Fishing Trips, who have several pages of photos from the shoot on their website).

More production value comes from the use of the Tank School in Usk, Monmouthshire which is here renamed the Marcus Akin Tank School Fuck Yeah. Akin, who has wannabe-Wolverine sideburns, was apparently a housemate on Big Brother in 2009, thereby giving the film some token D-list name value, a value which is doubled by the additional presence of Big Brother contestant turned local radio presenter Glyn Wise who was on the show in 2006. Frankly, there may well be other reality TV ‘celebrities’ in the cast but I wouldn’t know them. I wouldn’t have known either of these two except that so much play is made over their names that it seemed worthwhile googling them.

Disappointingly, despite various shots of tanks and other military vehicles in sheds and driving around fields, that’s all we get. There is no zombie interaction during these scenes. No zombies attack a tank, no tank attacks any zombies. A real missed opportunity which sadly knocks this generally enjoyable little movie a notch or two down on the scale of ‘how well do they achieve what they set out to do with what they had available.’ Dude, you had a freaking tank. In a zombie film.

Instead, all we get is five minutes of comedy swearing (in English) from Mr Akin before he sets off up a country lane, encounters a shuffling zombie and lays it out with a couple of punches, albeit sustaining a bite in the process. For added comedy value, this fight features some Batman-style kerpow-captions. (Glyn Wise subsequently fares better, casually swatting away an attempted zombie attack outside the gym with a handy badminton racket.)

Another highlight is a televised wrestling match where two hulking zombies clamber into the ring and lay about the wrestlers and referee while the hapless TV commentator attempts to describe what is happening. Amusing and silly (and satisfying for Santo fans) though this sequence is, it nevertheless suffers by being inexplicably shown entirely by filming a TV screen rather than using the actual TV footage itself.

Although most of the film is played for laughs, the actual zombie attacks are generally played for horror. These include an old lady sitting reading her magazine in the middle of the woods (as you do), a young couple dragged from their car and (later) a stoner played by director Ryan Kift. The closest thing to a central character is a blonde woman who was on the boat and somehow made it ashore, played by co-writer (and tattoo model) Sian Davies, who features in the one stand-out scene of real drama. Struggling through the woods, she eventually finds the couple’s abandoned car. In a single take, she throws herself inside, lock the doors, collapses into tears and then, seeing her face in the rear-view mirror (as do we – it’s filmed from the back seat), she spots a gaping wound on her cheek, which she pulls apart, sobbing and yelling in terror and confusion. Eventually she summons up the strength to start the car and drives off up the lane before being brought to a halt by a locked gate, by which time the zombie infection is starting to take hold.

This is a terrific sequence, the sort of thing that we watch these movies for. It’s followed by a flashback showing us her previous life as a lesbian pole-dancer/whore who bites a client’s dick off while noshing on him. A similar life-passing-before-her-eyes sequence occurs when the old lady is killed, except that her memories are all of charity shops. That could have played up brilliantly if the pole dancer had died first, but the old lady is the first victim so we don’t really appreciate the contrast the way we could have done.

The film’s climax is its most impressive – even iconic – scene as a hundred or so zombie extras lurch across the traffic-less Menai Bridge, spreading the infection to the mainland. Shot at dawn, this is a terrific sequence, ably intercut with footage of two comedy policemen who see the zombies on CCTV but assume they’re protesters demonstrating against plans for a second bridge (one of the coppers is watching a TV ad for ‘Beb-Stesion’ featuring Sian Davies). A post-credits gag harks back to the swine flu experiments which we have all forgotten about by then.

Shot over a period of months from summer 2010 to spring 2011, Zombies from Ireland premiered at Blaenau-Ffestiniog on Halloween 2012 and subsequently screened at Bangor University in February 2013 and at Caernarfon in July. I’m listing it as a 2013 release because in August that year it was made generally available via the Tube that is You. Apart from Rift and Davies, the massive cast and the bands on the soundtrack, the only credit is for make-up artist Anwen Peters who clearly did a terrific job on both undead and victims on what was, I imagine, a non-existent budget. If nothing else, Zombies from Ireland is a great show-reel for her.

Got 80 minutes to spare? Enjoy zombies, wrestlers, Big Brother, military vehicles, tattooed blondes or some combination of the above? Got a high tolerance for low budget horror? This could be the perfect movie for you.

MJS rating: B

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