Friday, July 22, 2011

Among the Fallen (2011) review


Jay Shatzer (Will Ashford), Erica Shatzer (Sophia Ashford)

Directed by Jay Shatzer

The Short Version: Modest, yet visually interesting take on the zombie movie--a genre that's been starving for fresh brains lately. Jay Shatzer's 60 minute indy movie may not satiate those seeking a strict diet of mindless flesh shredding thrills, but those open to a cerebral experience will find much to munch on here. There's blood and gore aplenty, but with a lot more going on than the standard living dead feature. Overly melancholic, the film is a love story at its core and bears some occasionally striking photography echoing a potential talent in its director and fellow hands behind the camera.

Will Ashford, a young writer mourning the death of his wife and unborn child, takes a trip out in the country to a secluded cabin by the lake. Upon his arrival, Will is haunted by bizarre occurrences including a growing number of walking corpses.

Jay Shatzer not only writes about horror movies on his blog, THE LUCID NIGHTMARE, but he goes the extra mile doing what many of us would love to do and that's actually make them. This 60 minute independent feature is a dialog deprived, but visually stylized take on the zombie film--a frequently "brainless" genre that's gotten so out of hand and virtually interchangeable these days, not even a bullet in the head can stop the monotony. Essentially a tragic story of lost love, the element of the walking dead is a cryptic addition that's "explained" by the end, but throughout, it's all up to viewer interpretation.

Thankfully, Shatzer's film, while obviously lacking major monetary backing, is far more creative and lovingly ambitious than a dozen or more of the zombie movie horde out there now. The filmmakers put their limited means to good use making the most of their locations with some truly captivating photographic touches as well as some brief experimentation with black and white shots subtly enhanced with color. The camerawork of Raimi and Peter Jackson (before the RINGS and KONG) puts in a cameo appearance as well. Whether intentional or not, you'll also notice influences from the likes of CARNIVAL OF SOULS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Shatzer and his team are from Pennsylvania, by the way), LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, THE EVIL DEAD and Fulci's ZOMBIE.

The use of running water is a recurring theme here whether from a sink, a shower, or the nearby lake. Liquid of the sanguinary variety serves as a metaphorical extension and sometimes the two are intertwined; their ultimate purpose coming full circle during the last scene. Ambiguity looms large over this production even if it loses some of its aesthetic merit once the zombies make their presence known 30 minutes into the film. The makeup and special effects are crude, but highly effective with an accomplished "Do It Yourself" fervor. The sound effects of the zombies are suitably eerie as well. These shamblers are the slow shuffler variety and not the overbearing marathon runners of today's "fast food" horror audience. The musical score is also very well done particularly the opening and closing themes.

If any negative can be applied here it's that some scenes tend to go on too long tripping up the pace, whose slow build otherwise works in the pictures favor. This applies to some of the zombie sequences, too. Some may find the artistic excess overly pretentious, but considering this is a fan made project much in the same way some of the horror genres best loved artisans got their start, it's far less an imperious project than it is an impassioned one.

AMONG THE FALLEN is definitely a recommended piece of indy cinema that uses a good deal of ingenuity to tell a simple story in a visually impressive way. Jay Shatzer shows a great deal of talent here and hopefully, he gets to take this aptitude to the next level.
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