THERE WON'T BE BUB
DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE (15)
Director: Hèctor Hernández Vicens
Screenplay: Mark Tonderai, Lars Jacobson
Starring: Johnathon Schaech, Sophie Skelton, Marcus Vanco
Review: David Stephens
The late, and definitely great, George A. Romero left an indelible mark on horror cinema. Even if you take the genre-igniting “Night of the Living Dead” out of the equation, you’ve still got the rest of his Dead movies and other works like “The Crazies” to consider. So it’s no surprise that the much-maligned spectre of the Hollywood remake often rears its ugly head. To be fair though, Romero’s actually not suffered too badly on that front. Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of NOTLD is a great little update, with cool performances from Tony Todd and Patricia Tillman. (NB: We’ll ignore all the other low-budget spinoffs that took advantage of the film’s public domain status). Then there’s Zack Snyder’s 2004 reimagining of “Dawn of the Dead”, which worked surprisingly well even with the “fast zombie” controversy. Hell, even the 2010 version of “The Crazies” with Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell is good. As for the treatments of his “Day of the Dead”… well, let’s just say that’s had the worst luck. Steve Miner’s 2008 remake had little of the original’s appeal and was universally panned, and then there was the hilarious movie (although it’s not meant to be) from 2005 called “Day of the Dead 2: Contagium”, which is actually a (very) unofficial prequel. And crap.
This leads us to the new semi-remake of the original Romero film, called “Day of the Dead: Bloodline”. This is a 2018 Bulgarian-American “reimagining” directed by Hèctor Hernández Vicens, and is openly based on the characters and plot from the original. Given a limited US release at the start of the year, it’s now streaming on Netflix in the States and the UK. So YGROY “chokes on ‘em” and takes a look at it.
After a few scenes of carnage during the opening hours of the inevitable zombie apocalypse (albeit on one city street), the plot backtracks four hours to a nearby medical university. Zoe Parker (British actress Sophie Skelton) is a student getting used to diagnosing the causes for death on cadavers. Unfortunately she is also constantly pestered by creepy stalker Max (Johnathon Schaech, Jonah Hex from superhero show “Legends of Tomorrow”) who regularly turns up donating blood. Unhappily her seniors put up with his blatantly dangerous obsession with her (“I know he’s a bit strange but the antibodies in his blood are 100 times normal level”… whatever that means). But it all comes to a head when Max traps Zoe in the morgue and attempts to assault her. Luckily the outbreak of the zombie plague (or whatever, it’s never really explained) resurrects a nearby corpse and lets her escape. Moving forward five years and Zoe is the “town doctor”, living in an army shelter with various military grunts and civilians. (NB: That supplies the nod to the original “Day”). However a scouting mission to the city leads to an unexpected encounter with Max, who is now a human/zombie hybrid and just might hold the key to mankind’s survival…
Eurgh. Continuing the theme from the 2008 remake, this is another attempt to recapture the essential spirit of Romero’s undead universe… and totally misses the point. Whilst the 1985 film was far from appreciated at the time, it has since been re-evaluated into a classic slice of genre. It also owns some great themes around the natural evolution of zombie-kind, further highlighting the fact that it would be humanity’s petty squabbles that would destroy it, not flesh-eating corpses. This was personified by “Bub”, brilliantly played by Sherman Howard. He was a zombie that was domesticated to a believable extent and overcame his bloodlust, leading to an ironic ending where he heroically dispatches the human Big Bad. None of that here.
Max is undeniably a new version of Bub. But instead of that sympathetic and reflective character, Max is an instantly hateful sexual predator with no redeeming qualities. When taking into account the current mood in Hollywood, it feels like a mistimed and uncomfortable update for the character. Sure, it does allow for a (slightly lame and misguided) exploration of abusive relationships and personal stalkers, but that doesn’t sit well within the framework. The idea of victim empowerment is touched upon, but not in a really effective way. It’s not helped by Zoe being a divisive character, who makes some entirely face-palming decisions as well as being an absolute liability to everyone around her.
The international tone of the film doesn’t help matters. There are a number of over-dubbed scenes, which focus on the back of actor’s heads whilst obvious additional exposition speeches are dropped. You can even see a couple of sequences where dialogue is spoken, but the characters noticeably don’t move their mouths! The locations are mostly limited to the base, a studio-built city street, and a couple of woodland areas. It’s not fair to criticise low-budget films for that, but there’s a definite lack of scale in the production. Beyond Zoe, Max, and Baca (Zoe’s token army boyfriend played by Marcus Vanco from “The Shannara Chronicles”), it’s hard to care for or remember anybody else in the cast. Certainly there’s nobody to match the loopy Dr Logan from the original, or the brilliant Joe Pilato’s turn as the unhinged Captain Rhodes. They just feel like zombie fodder… sorry, we mean Rotter fodder. They’re called “Rotters” here BTW. Why does nobody call a Zombie a “Zombie” in any Zombie movie/TV apocalypse?
To be fair, Schaech actually does a good job as Max. If it wasn’t for the character comparisons to Bub, and the way in which he is established, he would make more of an impression. The make-up is good and creepy (even if over-sized “smiles” seem to be everywhere in the genre at the moment) and he physically comes across as menacing and formidable in many scenes, even when he is chained. In fact, the idea of an intelligent zombie infiltrating a human stronghold and causing chaos within is probably the strongest part of the plot, it’s just a pity that this is never really utilised. Along with that, and despite the odd moment of unconvincing CG, the attack sequences are admirably full-on. Plenty of flesh-ripping and innards-eating ensues, and the undead make-up/effects are mostly pretty good. There are some “Monty Python” silly-walks and we are firmly in the “Fast Zombie” market here. But at least there is some gusto and energy in a few of those scenes… as well as some literal geysers of blood.
But for the most part, the plot does lack urgency or real tension. We should be gripped by the fates of this small band of survivors, but we never really are. It just goes through the motions, and the climax feels sadly underwhelming to say the least. Romero’s original wasn’t perfect, but it had some neat scenes/characters/social commentary. This just feels like a by-the-numbers low-budget Zombie film, with a loose attempt to touch on broader themes of abuse. Check it out if you must, but it’s not a patch on the source material. “Day” breaks.