Dir: Matthew Kohnen. US. 2008. 96mins.
Does anyone have an appetite for yet another zombie comedy’ Shaun Of The Dead felt like the last word on the genre but Wasting Away has enough deadpan wit and genuine charm to suggest there is always room for one more. Matthew Kohnen’s inventive, well-acted romp has cult potential written all over it. Theatrically it feels more like a midnight movie, horror festival item but the prospects on DVD and ancillary should be much more full-blooded.
There is something of the Evil Dead series in the manner Wasting Away so readily embraces its B-movie lineage and at the same time brings something fresh and appealing to the table. There is more than enough gore, severed body parts and bad taste antics to satisfy genre fans but there is also gleefully outrageous comedy and warmth that could help nudge its appeal more towards the mainstream.
A military serum with the code name Irresistible Force is designed to create an army of super soldiers. Naturally, it has some unexpected side-effects which result in the recipients of the serum turning into flesh-eating zombies. A keg of the lurid green substance winds up at the back door of a bowling alley. Mike (Davis) has a passion for creating unusual food and drink combinations and uses it to make ale ice-cream. One taste of his cone and his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Robinson), shy, mild-mannered Tim (Terry), co-worker Cindy (Beutler) and Mike all collapse, die and return to life as shuffling zombies. The catch is that they initially have no idea what has happened. A good deal of the film’s humour comes from how the rest of the world responds to them and the dawning realisation of their fate.
Kohnen’s topsy turvy approach means that the film unfolds from the point of view of the zombies. The scenes between them are in full colour with everyone unchanged and just as handsome and limber as ever. Kohnen switches to shadowy black and white to show the hideous, ungainly monsters that the rest of the world see.
Kohnen has a good feel for the kind of po-faced dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in a more conventional zombie shocker. His film also has the advantage of likeable characters and performers who have personality and comic timing. Matthew Davis is the stand-out as the boorish but ultimately heroic Mike, facing every situation with a positive mental attitude. ’ Do you think Mexican brains are spicy” he breezily enquires before tucking into another tasty victim.
Kohnen maximises the comedy by placing the zombies in the most mundane situations; Vanessa is well-equipped to cope with a dodgy job interview whilst Tim is ever the gentleman as he asks Cindy’s father if he might start dating his daughter. The response is a hail of bullets and a stick of dynamite thrown in his direction.
Playful and well-sustained, Wasting Away never overstays its welcome and emerges as the kind of material to give cult films a good name.
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Michael Grant Terry