Thursday, August 12, 2010
At the moment, the French are delivering the goods in terms of horror. Films such as “Haute Tension,” “Inside,” “Frontiers,” and “Martyrs” have upped the ante on contemporary horror. Now comes “La Horde” (available OnDemand from IFC starting August 11).
IFC OnDemand has been good about bringing zombies films to the U.S. They imported “Dead Snow” (Nazi zombies from Sweden); “Pontypool” (a zombie films without zombies from Canada); and now “La Horde” (a legion of evil from France). Unfortunately these films are not always available in theaters as well. That’s too bad because all three are solid genre films that would seem to have a built in audience for at least a short theatrical run. But I’ll take my zombies any way I can get them and if I can only get them OnDemand than I will happily do that.
“La Horde” is basically a cop/gangster revenge story with zombies thrown in for added complication. The film opens with Franck Jimenez (Aurelien Recoing) discovering the tortured corpse of a fellow cop. At the funeral, Ouessem (Jean-Pierre Martins) assures the widow that he will get revenge. He takes along Jimenez as well as Tony (Antoine Oppenheim) and female cop Aurore (Claude Perron). The widow asks that he bring everyone back alive but of course we know he can’t.
The quartet of cops head off to a condemned building in the projects where the gangsters are holed up. But the gangsters –led by Nigerian brothers, Adewale (Eriq Ebouaney) and Bola (Doudou Masta) – quickly catch the cops off guard and are about to execute them when who comes knocking at the door but some ravenous zombies. This forces the cops and gangsters to call an uneasy truce so they can join forces. Along the way they pick up a colorful old curmudgeon named Rene (Yves Pignot), who’s pretty handy with an axe. Now all they have to do is maneuver their way down to the ground floor and hopefully to safety. Yeah right!
Debuting feature directors Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher deliver a solid genre hybrid blending zombie horror with cops/gangster action. They never provide an explanation of why zombies have suddenly taken over but we do see Paris under a dark, ominous black cloud and partially ablaze. Something bad has obviously happened. We're just not sure what. But this horde of fast moving, flesh eating, enraged undead beings could just be a product of a world grown increasingly violent. France has dealt in recent years with violent riots and racial tensions. So maybe these zombies are some bizarre off shoot of the current social upheaval. Films like “La Horde” and the earlier “District B13” reflect the reality of contemporary France but within the context of over the top genre films. In "La Horde," you can’t help but take note of the racial tensions between the white cops and the Nigerian gangsters, and of the differing socioeconomic worlds they inhabit. Now I’m not trying to say that “La Horde” is a socially conscious film with a powerful social message but the realities of France today do inform the story and give it a little more interest.
The threat of zombies does quickly change the dynamics of the story. The cops come for revenge but to save their own skins they are willing to partner with the gangsters. And while the gangsters are more than suspicious of the cops, they too are motivated by a sense of self-preservation and are willing to make allies of their enemies. But once this alliance forms, there are divisions that immediately become evident. The divisions are no longer by race or social status but rather by intelligence and survival skills. So Ouessem and Adewale form a kind of allegiance because they realize that they are smarter than the rest and less likely to go psycho and made a bad judgment call.
The film does a nice job of showing the dead transforming into the zombie beings. There’s a creepy sense of discomfort in seeing the bodies transform from living to dying flesh and then reanimating back to life. Since these zombies are faster and more active, they have a more human quality to them. So this makes the violence done to them a little more chilling. At one point a female zombie is shot in the legs and is thrashing around on the ground unable to get away. The crazy old curmudgeon and a couple of the gangsters ponder what they can do to the trapped creature. They torment her and abuse her and even taunt her with insults. There’s a growing discomfort in the scene as we realize how horrific humans can be. At least the zombies have gone braindead and are just motivated by some primal need to flesh but these humans are still supposed to possess human traits and emotions. They really don’t have any excuse for their cruelty. And that is a point that filmmaker Dahan and Rocher do seem to want to make. In our increasingly violent culture, maybe we are losing our humanity. Without any explanation for why these zombies have suddenly appeared, maybe that’s the only explanation we will find – we as a race are becoming more violent so maybe we are just bringing this violent zombie apocalypse upon ourselves.
The action choreography by Alain Figlarz is effective although it could have been allowed to shine a little more with less shakycam and less frantic editing. Sometimes it’s nice to appreciate some close quarters fighting in a nice wide steady take. A fight towards the end involving a massive number of zombies is well staged to show the futility of fighting such overwhelming odds. But the use of occasional wide steady shots are highly effective in creating the tension and sense of doom. But not all the violence is zombie versus human. The film shows that even under these terrifying conditions, humans will still turn on each other. This is a film where the cycle of violence just seems unstoppable. It begins with cops versus gangsters, then becomes humans versus zombies, but then includes some cops versus cops and gangsters versus gangsters. Nobody really seems able to get along and concepts such as revenge, that should lose all meaning in a crazy apocalyptic setting, are still clung to beyond all sense of reason and logic. The filmmakers create a violent world that makes us wonder if humans as a race could ever get along.
“La Horde” (in French with English subtitles) offers a damn good and bleakly satisfying take on the zombie apocalypse. On a certain level it says we humans get what we deserve. Or for a more eloquent way of putting it, there’s Shakespeare's line: “We but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor.” In this case it’s a zombie plague that comes back to wreak havoc on the teachers of violence.
Companion viewing: “Inside,” “Ils,” “Day of the Dead”