Writers: Ross Evison, Stuart Fletcher
Producers: Sian Williams, Stuart Fletcher
Cast: Ross Evison, Susan Riley, Paul Sutherland
Year of release: 2005
Reviewed from:UK DVD (Blackhorse Entertainment)
To really enjoy Ed Evers-Swindell’s debut feature Infestation, one should have both a tolerance for ultra-low budget film-making and a fondness for generic British zombie films. Who has both of those qualities in spades, also two thumbs and speaks French?
Under normal circumstances, this would be a routine and unexceptional entry in the British Horror Revival (and its wholly owned subsidiary the British Zombie Boom), distinguishable only by its impressively early production date – shooting began in late 2000 – and a sci-fi first act which gives every impression of being a completely different movie. But circumstances are not normal, because of the possible appearance on this disc of a very unexpected individual – and I’m not talking about the trailer for obscure gangster drama Rulers and Dealers which features (“And introducing…”) a pre-Tardis Freema Agyeman.
Fact: of all the NuWho companions, Martha Jones was easily (a) the best, and (b) the hottest. Challenge this assertion at your peril. The other unskippable trailers here include Ross Boyask’s Left for Dead (a film on which Ed Evers-Swindell gets a ‘thank you’ credit, apparently) and The Silencer, directed by and starring an absurdly young-looking Steve Lawson. Anyway…
One of the terrorists escapes, Loki gives chase and they both jump into flying machines which look like stubby X-wings, only without the wings. These two cheap CGI vehicles hurtle at speed through a cheap CGI city. Underground.
Let’s just pause the tape there, because the whole Subtropolis thing is nonsensical with a capital daft. Quite apart from having been constructed in just two years, this is an ‘underground city’ not in the sensible way of being a vast network of tunnels, but in the sense of being a single, vast cavern full of tower-blocks. Hence people travel everywhere in flying cars, as we shall all assuredly do in two decades’ time. There’s no suggestion of how Subtropolis functions as a city, except that it is ruled by a militaristic individual ironically named Commander Freeman (Malcom Raeburn: lots of TV work since the 1970s including Juliet Bravo, Corrie, Fairly Secret Army, The Bill etc; used to mostly play policemen, now mostly plays doctors and vicars ). Little things like how any such underground society would actually produce food are simply scooted over.
Up top, after a quick trek across a quarry on Anglesey which also featured in a Mortal Kombat film, the six squaddies arrive at a collection of derelict buildings. This is (or was) Tower Beach Prestatyn, the only holiday camp ever built and run by Thomas Cook Ltd. Pontins took over the place in the 1970s and it closed in 1985, after which it was used by the police for riot training (hence, presumably, the large number of smashed windows). A number of other productions shot there, notably 1990s post-apocalypse TV series The Last Train, before Ed and his merry band arrived. Principal photography on Infestation ran for two weeks in February 2001, literally finishing a few days before the camp was demolished (it’s now a housing estate).
Just over halfway through, we finally get our first look at the zombies as a couple of them lurch at our heroes. This follows a tense build-up clearly modelled on the legendary three-metres-that’s-in-the-room scene from Aliens and the original intention was that the zombies would burst up from the floor. That not being possible, they just walk through a doorway which is – how to put this? – less effective. That said, when one of the characters falls prey to the zombies there is a very cool, full-on, Dawn of the Dead style gut-munching scene.
After this, it all becomes pretty much standard fare with the undead (or rather, virus-infected) hoards picking off our heroes one by one. Who will survive and what, like the man says, will become of them? Eventually, good old Loki locates an entrance to some sort of underground hangar from where he launches another cheap CGI flying machine, rescues his surviving comrades and then heads back down into the bowels of the Earth, having discovered the (frankly rather dull) truth about the virus.
You’ve seen worse zombie films than this (or at least, I have) and you’ve certainly seen better. The whole thing has a very cheap, video look with almost every scene tinted some colour or other. The acting is not bad. Evison has a slightly gormless look which effectively belies the character’s savvy and fighting ability. There’s some good character conflict, especially between Sash and Maddox, and a not unreasonable sequence of narrative events. Evers-Swindell makes the most of his locations and uses tight shots and small sets for other scenes, such as inside the aircraft. The UK disc comes with an enjoyably self-deprecating and honest commentary by the director.
Eventually completed in 2004, Infestation made its debut at the 2005 Cannes Film Market and premiered on Italian DVD in August that year (with sleeve blurb moving the events to 2080). There was a Japanese disc in February 2007 (with, as you might expect, a freaking awesome sleeve) and a UK release a few months later plus assorted releases in other territories including Portugal and Australia. Actually, I must just note my surprise that the copy I bought off eBay had ‘For rental only’ emblazoned on the sleeve. Checking Amazon I find that there was indeed a rental disc released on 12th November and a sell-through disc three weeks after. I honestly had no idea that the concept of a rental window still existed that late. What was the point? Was anyone so desperate to see this indie obscurity that they couldn’t wait for sell-through?
The only press coverage I’m aware of was a review in SFX which accused this 2001-produced film of ripping off The Core (2003) and Serenity (2005). Sigh. Also of note is that the sleeve (and hence the Amazon page) proudly displays the BBFC symbol for an ‘18’ rating when in fact Infestation was passed uncut as a 15. And frankly it probably only just scraped that, it’s more of a 12.
Andrew Parkinson’s very atypical I, Zombie, the cheap splatter comedy of Zombie Toxin/Homebrew and an early, self-released effort from the indefatigable Jonathan Ash. Plus a few shorts but really not many. So although Infestation seems – heck, is – thoroughly generic and formulaic, that’s only because when it eventually emerged from post-production (that CGI may be cheap-looking but it still takes time) the genre and the formula had already established themselves in the meantime.
So why is this film interesting? It’s because of Mr Neil Marshall. There is a quote from him front and centre on the UK sleeve (reading, in full: “Awesome!”). Ed Evers-Swindell worked in the sound department on The Descent, providing all the ‘voices’ of the Crawlers, and he is also credited as ‘script consultant’ on The Descent Part 2. As I type this he is deep in post on his long-awaited second feature Dark Signal, which is being executive produced by Marshall.
The executive producer on Infestation was Paul Sutherland, the actor who played ‘Mad Dog’ Maddox. And here’s the really spooky part: he looks exactly like Neil Marshall! The bald head, the little beard, same height, same build, northern accent. Surely – I thought, as I watched the film – surely that is a young, unknown Mr N Marshall who has subsequently asked for his dual contribution to be disguised by an alias. Otherwise, we have to believe that Ed Evers-Swindell, a known associate of Neil Marshall, has made two feature films, executive produced by two different men who look like twins!
But is it really Neil Marshall? Let’s apply scientific procedure to this. What evidence do we have that it’s not Marshall? Certainly neither he nor Ed nor anyone else has ever mentioned this acting gig. But of course absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Slightly more concerning is that the February 2001 shoot for Infestation was literally a month before principal photography began on Dog Soldiers, when Neil Marshall should have been working all hours God sends on last-minute pre-production for his own debut feature.
Here, I think, is the clincher. Infestation is a co-production between three companies. Racing Snake Films was Ed and Will Evers-Swindell’s production company. Fierce Productions was co-writer/producer Stuart Fletcher (although the name has now been adopted by an unrelated company in London). But the main prodco was ESP Pictures Ltd, and a quick check of the company details reveals that the three directors of that were Ed Evers-Swindell, Sian Williams (the other producer) and… Paul Andrew Sutherland. Hence the name: ‘ESP’ for Ed, Sian and Paul.
Which means that Paul Sutherland is a real person. So, unless ‘Neil Marshall’ is an alias, these are two different people, and my surprise at discovering a low-budget zombie film secretly starring one of the biggest names in British horror is dashed. Would have been cool, though. And the matter is slightly confused by Sutherland being credited as both (sole) producer and co-producer on the British Council’s listing for the film, and being misnamed ‘John Sutherland’ elsewhere. And you must admit, only their mother can tell them apart.
Plus, while I was writing this review, someone alerted me to the fact that there is a British horror film with Neil Marshall on screen, acting under a fake name. So you know, it wasn’t such a crazy idea. But to be absolutely certain, I contacted Ed himself who assured me: “I can confirm that Neil Marshall and Paul Sutherland are two very different and separate people. In fact, if you get them in a room together they don't actually look very similar...but I have heard people mistake them in the past.”
The ‘special make-up FX’ on Infestation were jointly handled by Amber Smit (who later got a credit in the wardrobe department of The Phantom Menace), Wendy Couling (now a professional artist) and Cathy Griffiths. ‘Special FX supervisor’ Andrew Whitehurst has gone on to an impressive career, working at the Framestore and Double Negative, amassing credits on the likes of Skyfall, Scott Pilgrim and assorted Harry Potters. Richard Blackburn and Philip Creed are credited with ‘special gun FX’; they also shared editing duties with Ed and both subsequently played zombies in Colin! ‘Screen FX’ (which I assume means the various computer displays on show) are credited to Andy Harding of Paintbox Studios.
There’s no credited DP but Ed is listed as camera operator (the camera in question being his dad’s, purchased from Curry’s, hence the ‘home video’ look) with Stuart Fletcher responsible for lighting. Neil Ratcliffe did the titles which, in the manner of such things, are one of the best parts of the movie. Someone or something called Emissary provided the music.
Aside from the principals, the cast included Evison’s brother Simon as a survivor from the first expedition, and Matt Routledge who subsequently wrote, directed, produced and starred in legendary action comedy Mersey Cop (he also DPed Angie Bojtler’s unreleased BHR feature Jacob’s Hammer).
As for Edward Evers-Swindell himself, he started making super-8 films as a kid, set up a film-making club at school and then began serious production at university where his graduation film was a shorter version of Infestation. This feature, his magnum opus (until now), cost a whopping £5,000 all-in. In 2015 as I type he is deep in post on his second feature Dark Signal, executive produced (as noted) by Neil Marshall. Ed tells me that both Neil and Paul Sutherland were offered cameos but neither could make it, meaning we still haven’t seen the two of them in the same place at the same time…
MJS rating: C