Dr. Brian Locke accompanies a young documentary crew to a field in France to make a historical film about the Battle of Somme; one of the First World War’s bloodiest. Alongside his co-presenter Emma (YOU’RE NEXT’s Wendy Glenn), Brian gives somewhat lifeless addresses to the camera, prompting director Marcus to constantly push for some factual embellishments; anything to spice up his doc. Spice soon comes however, in the form of a rotted skeleton pulled from a lake, which in turn summons a horde of undead soldiers who kill one of the crew. As night falls, the surviving members retreat into the field’s trenches and tunnels, pursued by the reanimated troops.
Despite its unwisely convoluted title, WORLD WAR DEAD really doesn’t lend itself to any elevated expectations, bringing as it does nothing new to either the found footage format or zombie lore. It’s a British production of little real ambition, with ‘a fiver in Sainsbury’s’ written all over it. Despite this lack of promise however, the film’s opening half hour actually conveys an effective sense of building menace, with some convincing performances, and a couple of glimpsed ghouls in the background. We even get a few decent laughs. Then there’s the documentary crew setup; a fertile starting point for a found footage horror meaning that multiple angles can be used, and lending a believability that characters would keep filming through the horror. These guys are professionals, after all.
It’s a real shame then, that the careful pacing and admirable atmospherics are left for dead once the zombies are introduced. Following the skeletal discovery (a well-constructed scene ending in a spooky, Blair-Witch-esque moment), the crew begin to relax only to be set upon with the abrupt appearance of a platoon of undead soldiers. The suddenness of the attack belies the control of the first act, and though the film’s title tells us we’re watching a zombie flick, no precedent has been set; the zombies are simply there. This pivotal scene – which should grab the viewer by the throat and drag them in – is a lame duck, and sadly sets the pace for the remainder of the film. One major issue lies in the cast’s acting skills which, though convincing during the casual exchanges of the first act, become severely stretched when conveying any heightened levels of stress or fear. The improvisational feel of the dialogue flows nicely in the early stages, playing to the strengths of Ben Shafik who, as Daz, provides a good few chuckles. When the horror hits though, an apparent lack of direction means characters merely shout over each other, Ray Panthaki (playing Marcus, but perhaps best known as Eastenders’ Ronny) opting to just yell “fuck…fuck!” over and over and over.
As with a number of lower-drawer found footage horrors, the format is used by directors Freddie Hutton-Mills and Bart Ruspoli as a handy excuse to avoid going the extra mile. Camera ‘glitches’ are used so frequently to rob the audience of money shots that you can actually predict their occurrence. Maybe use it as a fun way to pass the time; despite its lean 75-minute runtime the film still becomes a chore. Also substituting directorial flair is the old jittery camerawork trick. Scenes involving the zombies following the crew into a network of underground tunnels should be frenzied and heart-pounding. Instead we are treated to an overlong, underlit sequence where the whipping camera shows us zombies (ever…so…slowly) approaching, while characters continuously yell each others’ names.
As previously mentioned, there are some nice comedic moments – a scene in which Daz takes on three zombies, throwing as many insults as he does punches, is a highlight – it’s just that they are balanced pound for pound by unintentional laughs, of which there are many. Brian’s cringing fear is as unconvincing as it is annoying, and Ray Panthaki’s attempts to bring a meaningful sincerity to senseless dialogue (“I need you to do one thing for me…bury the skeleton, find Daz and get out of here.”) negate what strive to be quite poignant scenes.
While such unintentional comedy inevitably provides a bit of fun, WORLD WAR DEAD offers little else of value following its promising setup. While it’s unwise to expect too much from this kind of modern zombie fare, the film unravels rapidly into a hurried mess, forgetting to even throw in a few inventive kills (a cardinal sin in a low-budget zombie flick). A continuation of the initial slow burn could have made for something interesting, as could a plunge into the nutbags excess of say, FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY. Instead though, the filmmakers have settled on lazy and uninspired, and slapped on a twattish, SyFy Channel title.
Words: Kevan Farrow