Army of the Dull

Tig Notaro is the only good thing, here.

As an occasional editor of horror, I feel an obligation to trying to keep up with what is the big thing happening in horror, when I see one around. Often, this is a book that I may enjoy or not. Sometimes, it’s a television series with a slow, odd burn. And, very rarely, I watch some piece of film that everyone is discussing to try and learn what exactly mainstream is doing in the genre, to get a sense of where the broad perceptions are. This is often enjoyable. There’s a harrowing and memorable truthtelling to Get Out that is absolutely undeniable as a work of powerful cinema. But, the zombies are coming, again. And, I heard Tig Notaro was hot glued into the film in an interesting technical marvel, and I heard she was incredible in it, and I thought, well… All right. I’ll try it.

I knew fairly quickly what kind of film I was watching when the slow reveal of how the “alpha zombie” arrives in Las Vegas is given such time and anticipation. It’s never a good sign when I know that I am watching the cinema equivalent of a clumsy prologue that manages to squeeze in a cringe-worthy sex act before killing everyone. Soon after this gross beginning, the zombie uprising in Las Vegas begins with a bunch of semi-nude zombie showgirls assaulting their former customers violently. So, that’s the kind of film we’re seeing. Soon, we are observing scenes from a zombie war in disjointed fragments, where the eventual main characters are all present and struggling to survive as the army swoops in to get as many survivors out, and to quarantine the area with a makeshift wall of storage containers. Of course, the gore and heartbreak is quickly jumped over, as the plague spreads and spreads, children die gruesomely, those fighters trying to help their fellow survivors die gruesomely, and people who are bitten are murdered swiftly with no remorse in the heat of battle. We get to watch Dave Bautista’s character kill a zombie version of one of his daughters to try and save the other. So, that’s how we begin the story. All of the cliche and usual nonsense slammed at our faces at a breakneck pace, as if to make it very clear that we are going to be watching exactly this kind of movie of ultra-violence and horror porn. And then… the script just seems to break.

Nothing from that point is even remotely crafted with the care and precision of the flashbacks. The lines are wooden. The direction is flat and limp. The promise of violence and energy is put off in favor of some kind of zombie mythologizing, where alpha zombies have a sort of kingdom in the dunes in command of mindless “shamblers”, and there’s a zombie tiger for some reason, but no zombie dogs or cats or mice or rats or anything like that. Just the tiger. Tigers are cool, I guess? Where are the vultures? Are there zombie birds? Are vultures eating the shamblers? Are grackles picking at their heads? No?

Okay, so they blew the budget on the tiger. The lines of dialog and worldbuilding just sort of collapse into a heap of goo, and the actors struggle to make anything work when they are playing characters so shell-shocked and hollowed-out that PTSD would be an improvement in their lives. The heist is ridiculous, and their motivations to go through with it don’t really work. The twist is predictable and stupid. If they had skipped the CGI tiger and taken that money to hire one of the many excellent writers of compelling zombie stories to come in and help them make lines of dialog and motivations that are not stupid, like Colson Whitehead or John Hornor Jacobs, this stupid premise could have been at least bearable.

Oh, Tig Notaro was fantastic, and seemed to be a airdropped in from a different, better movie. Feel free to just fast forward to her scenes in the film, and skip the rest. You will only miss the lingering disappointment that Tig Notaro could have been the whole zombie movie, instead of just a green-screen, last minute addition. She is the only one who can actually pull off the terrible script. Dave Bautista is a much better actor than he is allowed to be, but there’s only so much anyone can do with the guy who is motivated to go on a dangerous heist where all his remaining friends will probably die, as well as his last surviving daughter, because he doesn’t want to work as a line cook at a diner anymore.

I’m not linking to this movie. It’s terrible. Don’t watch it.

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