Does that say Day 183? That’s right folks, today I hit the halfway point of this year-long insomnia kick. Humpday. It’s all downhill from here. There is actually a movie called Humpday that I might have chosen to review today had the idea occurred to me more than five seconds ago, but instead I give you a French zombie flick. You’re welcome.
Careful what you wish for.
Four elite cops raid the condemned apartment building of a gang leader who killed one of their own, on a self-sanctioned mission of vengeance. They are outmatched and quickly captured, but when the zombie apocalypse breaks out, the cops and gangsters must form an uneasy truce if any of them are to make it out of the building alive. Let the exploding heads commence.
I’m not the first to make this point, but it is still true that much like the best sci-fi, the best horror films work because they have something to say about the world we live in; they use their fantastical monsters to comment on the real monsters that surround us every day. This is particularly true for zombie films. Just look at George A. Romero’s Dead movies if you are in any doubt (the first three anyway. Okay, maybe four). This French film from 2009 could be making a statement about unchecked police brutality, or gun control, or even something as pedestrian as the condition of social housing in Paris (maybe, I don’t know). Then again, maybe some guys just wanted to make the best violent action/adventure-style zombie movie they could. If that’s the case, it’s really not a bad effort at all.
Coming on like a cross between Assault On Precinct 13 and an inverted [Rec], The Horde starts as a straightforward revenge movie with the cops trying to assassinate the Marduki brothers in retaliation for the death of their friend and colleague Rivoallan (that name will be important later). The story is told entirely from the point of view of the people in this building, so there is no ominous foreshadowing of the impending undead-a-thon except for fires and explosions of what could be artillery strikes in the distance. Whatever is causing the outbreak though, it appears everywhere and all at the same time. Out of the blue, everyone who dies starts to come back. This sudden change of gear is handled quite neatly by rookie writer-directors Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher, during a rather tense moment in the Marduki’s apartment. There are a few cutesy moments in the build-up though, such as a bullet hit and a blown-out lock on a door together resembling an angry zombie face in profile.
It is at this point that I must raise a frequent complaint: why is it that none of the characters in a zombie movie ever seem to have seen a zombie movie before? When the first one (a recently executed snitch) strikes, he is shot a bunch of times with no effect before Adé Marduki takes half his head off with a shotgun. This is all fine and dandy, but through the whole rest of the flick, characters expend round after round aiming for centre mass when one well-aimed headshot has already been shown to do the trick.
Once everything starts kicking off, Dahan and Rocher just go to town. The amount of gore on display is about what you would expect in this age of the New French Extreme movement, with films like Martyrs and Frontiere(s) setting the standard. Speaking of Frontiere(s), its director Xavier Gens and Dahan seem to go back together. Dahan appeared uncredited in that movie, and Gens gets a mention under ‘special thanks’ in The Horde’s credits, referred to as “The fat bastard Xavier Gens”. Getting back to the topic at hand, the makeup and gore effects in the flick are gloriously excessive and there are a couple of excellent hand-to-hand fights scattered judiciously throughout, including a real bruiser where female cop Aurore beats a zombie back to death with her bare hands (and a fridge). My personal favourite though is where one character holds off hundreds of the undead from the roof of a car with only two handguns and a machete, to allow the last survivors time to escape. While a big chunk of this stuff was done practically, there is a fair bit of digital enhancement as well, some of which is more obvious than others – a belt-fed .50cal machine gun with a belt that never diminishes being one of them.
The writers frequently shift the perspective amongst the ever-dwindling cast. While this helps to keep the audience on our toes about who will make it to the outside, it does so by sacrificing some elements of character. Everyone in the film is defined solely by their actions here, with next to no backstory. Any development is done gradually and without heavy exposition, so much so that you might not even realise it’s happening at first, and the shifting allegiances keep things fresh and help to maintain the tension within both the group and the movie as a whole.
The only directorial credit for either Dahan or Rocher prior to The Horde was for a short film called Rivoallan (there’s that name again!) which was a straightforward cops versus gangsters shootout, apparently without any zombie action. The Horde is in fact a sequel to that short, with the cops’ initial raid being a retaliation for the events of Rivoallan. Some of the cast appear in both films, albeit in different roles. The nine-minute short is included as a special feature on some editions of the DVD. I was watching the film on Netflix today, so I haven’t yet had the pleasure.
The Horde is a fun flick but not a gamechanger, although it does show that these filmmakers have potential to do more interesting things. Whether they stick with B-action/horror or move towards more grown-up fare remains to be seen. If you are already a fan of zombies and/or French horror then you should enjoy this. I know I did.