The zombie genre hasn’t really expanded its plot focus in the zombie apocalypse timeline. Normally, stories either detail how the zombie plague began, like 28 Days Later, or they follow the exploits of the living trying to survive in a world overrun, like Dawn of the Dead and the TV series The Walking Dead. These are plot-lines that work, and when something works in mainstream media, there isn’t much of a push to change it.
Of course, there are always more unconventional stories, like the idea of a boy and his zombie in Fido or the rebuilding chapters of the book World War Z (who knows if the movies will follow suit). These were fantastic breaks from the norm of flesh-eating zombie entertainment, and begged for more, expansive tales of the undead.
Ultra-indie film director Benjamin Roberds answered the call with his film A Plague So Pleasant, a zombie film that expands the idea of what a zombie movie can really be.
A Plague So Pleasant alludes to taking place after the first wave of the zombie apocalypse. The first wave decimated the human population enough for you to notice that traffic isn’t as bad as it used to be, and the offices at work aren’t as busy as they used to be, even during a recession. It has been learned that zombies have similar traits to a collective bee hive: the undead are relatively docile, and are, for the most part, contained in government preserves where loved ones can even visit them.
There is one rule: zombies are not to be shot in the head. To do so would to invoke the wrath of the hive, and the decimation of humanity.
Clay Marshall, in order to release his sister Mia from her seemingly unhealthy attachment to her zombified boyfriend, breaks this rule with one bullet and unleashes the next wave of the zombie apocalypse, putting the lives and sanity of himself, his sister, and his friend Todd in jeopardy.
I’d hate to state, yet again, that this is an ultra-indie film. It begs repeating because what this film may lack, at times, in production, it more than makes up for with vision and direction. Director Benjamin Roberds and cinematographer/co-director Jordan Reyes allegedly spent a max amount of $3,000 to make a feature-length film. Even general independent horror movies that have some backing spend $3,000 on fake blood alone. This movie is grass-roots indie, meaning that it could either become another generic horror movie by a fan with high aspirations, or a new vision that could change the idea of zombie movies for years to come.
I’m leaning towards the latter.
From the first scene of Todd and Clay speaking during breakfast, I couldn’t help but enjoy the ironic idea A Plague So Pleasant displays that life goes on after a zombie apocalypse. We have Todd chatting away about clay’s sister in black and white as if we were watching an episode of Leave It to Beaver. It just oozes ridiculous wholesomeness, which is an amazing contrast to what a horror movie normally is.
This insane wholesomeness continues on through almost half of the movie. We see Clay pushing through zombies to get to his car. We see Clay going to zombie sensitivity training at work. We see Clay’s sister, Mia, put a knitted cap on her zombified boyfriend’s head. These scenes are shot in black-and-white and invoke the idea of how the character’s life traditions go on, just with some minor tweaks to factor in all the zombies roaming around. It’s sinisterly cute.
It’s not all cute, however, as the black-and-white scenes become vibrant color when Clay shoot’s Mia’s undead boyfriend in the head and unleashes the fury of the zombie hordes. Once that color hits, wholesomeness is thrown out the window to make way for sheer terror, as zombies tear through every living thing in sight. It’s an awesome thematic element, one that makes this more than just a zombie movie. It’s a zombie movie with a brain kick. I’d go as far to say it was a bit Lynchian, as David Lynch’s Eraserhead came to mind while watching the movie.
One of the greatest things about the color scenes is the lack of dialogue. This isn’t the sitcom portion of the movie where everyone is happy and chatting away. This is the survival portion of the movie. You don’t talk when you’re running for your life while trying to stop the bleeding caused from jumping through a plate-glass window. You save your breath for all that running.
The color portion of the movie also leads us to an amazing climax between Clay and Mia that yanks us back into that black-and-white wholesomeness, showing the audience how insane both versions of survival really are. Add in some folk rock by a singer/guitarist, and you have one of the most eerie endings to a zombie movie, indie, mainstream, or otherwise.
I only had two issues with the entire movie. Luckily, I overcame them fairly early so I could enjoy the movie without thinking about them, but they were there. One issue was the viewing. This movie was only viewable online, so watching it on an internet-fed TV led to a slight fuzziness to the film. This is one of those things that makes me wish these guys got some funding. It would have cleared this post-production muck right up.
The other minor issue was the use of monologue for Clay in the earlier scenes of the movie. While it does explain to the audience the back story to the zombie apocalypse and why the undead are roaming around without killing anyone, it slows the movie down. It’s like taking a Jackson Pollock painting and playing connect the dots with it. It does neither piece of art any justice. A Plague So Pleasant thrived best when it was showing its audience the world rather than telling its audience about it. That’s what good art does. It shows. The film does this through 7/8s of its running time, which is fantastic, but it also makes that 1/8th of story spoon-feeding that much more apparent.
Watch this movie. Love this movie for what it is. And hope that another one comes again.