Friday, February 25, 2011

REVIEW: La Horde

La Horde
Director: Yannick Dahan, Benjamin Rocher
Year 2009

La Horde is a gritty and grungy french zombie flick that pits a handful of cops and gangsters against an endless throng of rabid flesh eating walking corpses. Violence is the name of the game, when the two rivaling factions clash in an abandoned and decayed apartment complex only to be greeted by a full blown zombie apocalypse. The blood and brain matter flies in spectacular fashion, as the French once again show us that they have the balls to carry on the torch of this much beloved genre.

This twisted story features a cast of morally flawed characters, from revenge filled coppers to soulless thugs, who seem to mirror the blackened hearts of the hordes of undead that threaten to pull these jaded souls down into hell where they belong. The metaphors of the undead compared to the lack of moral compass of the characters is rather inspiring and seems fit to be compared to a person's soul being judged after it passes into the afterlife. Throughout the film, you feel as if all of these characters are paying for something that they've done in their life, whether it happens on screen or not. The finality of their actions and the repercussions that result from their decisions, weighs heavy on the brutal deaths that befall each character as they reach the end of their life.

What did you just say about my mustache?!?!

The film opens up at a funeral, where we discover a horrible tragedy has occurred. A group of cops have just lost one of their own during a botched bust against a group of local thugs and the tension and remorse ripples through the tight knit group. To make matters worse, another one of their numbers has also been captured during that same bust, so they decide to go against the precinct and put justice into their own hands. They organize a raid on the night of the funeral and plan to take out the dirty bastards that created this whole mess.

Right from the start of this film, we see the tendencies of this universally moral group go right down the shitter. They make it absolutely clear that they aren't taking any prisoners in this raid and that everyone must die. This is a perfect set up and inclination towards what the remaining 90 minutes of this film will entail. The pure nature and imperial image of the noble police officer gets a bloody and overtly dark makeover as we see what happens when revenge turns to obsession and when ones moral compass gets skewed and skewered when traveling down such dark paths.

Holy Shit! Bring out the gimp!

The clash that results between the two warring factions is explosive, resulting in battered bones and exposed midsections, leaving the group of coppers wounded and defeated for the most part. They're end seems imminent, that is until something wholly unexpected happens when the recently deceased corpses begin to rise from their broken bodies and feast on the living. The change of events and initial transformation from dead to undead is a violent and bloody mess, bringing about a visceral carnage that can give past films like the 28 Days Later series and Lamberto Bava's Demons films a nod of gruesome recognition. The rage and bloodlust that these zombies possess is quite frightening and definitely gets the film's blood pumping early and never lets up.

Man is this city a shithole.

The transformation from living to dead and then to undead is also rather quick, igniting the action of the film and keeping the tempo locked at full blown ridiculous levels. Add this to the overwhelming numbers of undead beings that lay outside of the apartment complex, who are thirsting to get inside and at our main characters, and you've got one hell of a devastating force of pure and unadulterated flesh seeking antagonists. The filmmakers do an amazing job of bringing on the doom, suffocating us in this unrelenting despair that there is no hope of survival or salvation. This damning nature that the characters are pitted up against, gives way to many of their selfish and immoral decisions, which then provides a nice underlying layer to the narrative. Not only do we get a violent and carnage driven zombie hackfest, but we're also presented a side helping of moral ambiguity and spiritual dismemberment. Delicious!

That stain is never going to come out.

On the topic of the zombies, they are a viscous and dangerous bunch in this film, prone to ripping flesh and devouring internal organs in a heartbeat. The best way to describe them would be a sort of cousin to the Rage victims of 28 Days Later, but on speed. These guys are fast, jerky, and basically pissed off 24 hours a day and when they get a hold of their victims they go right for the kill and settle in for a nice long meal. There's no fist beating or smothering, like the confused Rage creatures, just concise attacks featuring razor sharp teeth meeting tender fresh flesh. Many of the animalistic maulings are rather gruesome and exceptionally perverse in their succinct precision and ultimately unified execution. We definitely get that these are creatures that you don't want to encounter in twos or threes and that makes the exploration that the main characters make throughout the darkened corridors of the apartment complex that much more tension filled and danger ridden.

I'm not gonna let you dope me up!

That brings me to one of the films main strengths and that would be the location of the abandoned apartment building that morbidly mirrors the decay and despair that the newfound zombie apocalypse has now inflicted unto this French urban metropolis. Like the deterioration and downward spiral of the human race as they turn into these rabid and primal creatures, this subdivision that the warring factions find themselves in, bridges the two themes of the economically struggling subdivision with the deformed and chaotic intentions of the starving hordes of zombies in one bloody and cohesive mess of mass confusion. The relation of this broken building to the moral failings of the spiritually troubled characters is quite inspirational and gives way to a number of interesting comparisons that only help to lift up the overall narrative.

Everyone watch out! Grandpa is about to go ape shit crazy again!

The interesting part about these moral quandaries that the characters experience, is the added level that they rise too. After surviving the initial zombie uprising, the two separate groups of cops and gangsters decide that it's in both their best interests to work together in order to survive this new and ferocious enemy. This unlikely union is short lived as past grudges come to the surface and inner jealousy breaks throughout the ranks on both sides, often creating new alliances and new enemies. The intermingling of the two groups is fascinating and it helps in bringing some of the less then corrupt figures out into the forefront of the film. It also serves up something rather original within the zombie genre, where instead of having a group of random strangers go at each other while trying to survive against the army of the dead, we're rather shown two separate groups that initially have clear opposing sides, but eventually through the turmoil, they become randomly intertwined in the confusion to stay alive.

Nothing like picking out a zombie at the pound. Isn't it cute?

That is what I think is most brilliant about the concept behind La Horde and I believe it is one of the main inspirations that the filmmakers wanted to bring to this film and to the table of zombie movies in general. The set up is simple, place cops and gangsters in an already precarious situation and then make matters ten times worse by unleashing the very gates of hell onto them. In theory it sounds pretty basic, but the fact that they give each individual within the group their own motivations and characteristic tendencies, makes for a very entertaining plethora of outcomes and unexpected alliances that surprisingly work well together. It's random in its nature, but overall extremely satisfying to not know exactly what will happen next. Like I mentioned above, it follows that same kind of unexplainable flow of the Demons series, where people are just doing anything they can to survive as they're picked off one by one by the attacking hordes.

Zombie zoos are really not that exciting.

In La Horde, watching things pan out as new factions form and various people begin meeting their demise, you come to realize that this is similar to any Romero driven narrative that has ever been brought to the screen or any story that pits its characters against large numbers of enemies as they desperately try to survive within a barricaded structure. You have the ultimate enemy of the group being themselves as they fight and bicker with each other and eventually loose all control, allowing the zombies to overtake them in their own humanistic stupidity. Everything fits to formula, except for the slight change of the two warring factions, but in reality that subtle variation is enough to inject some new life into the tried and true genre. Myself being a fan of such stories would have been fine with just the simple set up of people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse, but I appreciated the added touches that the filmmakers brought to this film and to the overall concept.

Are you ready to ROCK!

Now I've been talking up this movie like it's some high art masterpiece, when essentially it's a showcase to show how badass these groups of people are when dealing out death to the zombie hordes. While it does have the previous elements that I mentioned earlier in the review, at the heart of the film it's a take no prisoners kind of balls to the wall zombie flick, bringing the pain in bucket loads and splattering the lens in crimson gore. It relishes in the carnage of it all and never shies away from the obscene or graphic nature of zombie killing. In fact it celebrates it, which maybe comes off to some as amateurish or pedestrian, which just gives the filmmakers an excuse to parade a steroid infused injection of muscles, guns, and gore. I say bring it on. If you can back it up with some meaningful elements like the film has, then you have all the rights to bring the pain and go all out even if some may be turned off by its boyish manner and brute force. In the end, it's a fucking zombie movie. The more gore the merrier.

What a nice end to a shit day.

La Horde is the perfect flick for a person that loves to see a more grittier and sadistic side to the zombie apocalypse scenario. It doesn't stray too far from the Romero-esque trappings that have become a staple in the zombie world, but it does bring about a new sort of immoral tone to the proceedings. Almost every single character in this film has a dirty soul in some way shape or form and the ones that are pure intentioned are anything but angelic. The fact that we have a whole stage full of basically bad people, makes for a unique vision of a nightmarish world. The intermingling of the characters is quite interesting in the film and the factions that reemerge after the world goes to hell, is rather refreshing and entertaining to see play out.

To top it all off, the overall feel of the world is filthy and foreboding, giving way to the very real and terrifying zombies that spring forth with the sole animalistic intention of devouring flesh. It's a bleak picture and one that keeps the tone and thematic elements of the zombie genre in clear and consecutive glorification. I highly recommend this film to all zombie fans and anyone that just wants to watch a high octane splatterfest with a side topping of new age French goodness.

4 out of 5 stars      French Zombie Splatter With Balls!

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