Whatever the other faults of the Spierig brothers’ debut – and there are many – you can’t accuse them of being unambitious. This low-budget yarn starts off as a Peter Jackson-esque zombie comedy and ends as a sombre, epic sci-fi in the Close Encounters mold, and the Spierigs prove that in this age of digital technology, a little can go a long way.
The action takes place in a small Aussie town, where falling meteorites are having a strange effect on the dead – they’re turning them into flesh-munching zombies. So inevitably a group of strangers find themselves gathered together in one place to decide what to do about the ravenous ghouls outside. But that’s only half the story – there’s also aliens, zombie fish, acid rain, giant walls and hundreds of floating corpses to deal with before 100 minutes is up.
Undead is a complete mess, but not in a particularly good way. It starts well enough; nothing special mind, but fairly enjoyable in a sub-Braindead/Bad Taste style. The Spierigs waste no time in getting to the juicy stuff – model Rene (Felicity Mason) is leaving town to head to the big city, but she and her agent run into a zombified family on the road. The agent ends up chopped in two, and Rene finds herself alongside a pair of local cops, a pregnant girl and her boyfriend and a gruff conspiracy-obsessed fisherman (Mungo McKay), holed up in the fisherman’s house. The gore is plentiful and skilfully executed – an amusing gag involving a pair of severed legs looking for their torso and some meaty head-shots – but the tone is too silly for the film to be remotely scary and proceedings quickly descend into pointless, badly-acted bickering.
And things go downhill from there. As the groups try escape from the town they encounter first a giant metal wall blocking their path, and then a group of squishy-headed aliens who are beaming people up into the sky and ‘cleansing’ them of the zombie plague. Or something like that. None of this makes ANY sense, and the sudden switch from daft gore comedy to boring, po-faced sci-fi is incredibly jarring. The effects-laden climax just plods on and on, ending on an idiotic set-up for a sequel that will hopefully never happen.
The Spierig brothers are clearly big genre fans, and the time and effort they put into Undead deserves respect – the effects were realised on home computers, and it all looks impressively expensive. But on every other level – script, acting, pacing, photography (why is every scene shot with either a blue or orange filter?) – it comes up seriously lacking.