As we all know, a zombie apocalypse is imminent, and there's really no use in asking why. Some day quite soon, we'll wake up to a world of flesh-eating former humans shuffling along urban streets in search of fresh, non-zombie brains. At that point, we'll think to ourselves, "I was expecting this," and go about the business of blowing their heads off while trying to escape the city.
That's the refreshing mise en scène of Colin (the main feature being screened at the Knoxville Horror Film Festival this weekend), which doesn't bother to concoct the usual backstory for its zombie chaos—it's simply happening, just as predicted in countless other zombie stories. But this shaky-cam DIY effort does offer a refreshing viewpoint: a mindless young zombie who's just joining the fray of cannibalism. After all, you've seen them in the backgrounds of dozens of movies by now—those armies of ashen-skinned drones, groaning and stumbling around—but what's it like to actually be one of the zombies?
As it turns out, it's a rather uneventful lifestyle (beyond the flesh-eating, of course), but it does make for an interesting detour from society's current zombie mania. Consider ourselves under full attack: zombie books (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), zombie TV series (The Walking Dead), zombie video games (Resident Evil, of course, but don't forget Plants vs. Zombies), zombie live-action games (Humans vs. Zombies), zombie comics (too many to name, but geez Marvel, did we really need a zombie Spider-Man?), and of course zombie movies (Zombieland just being one of the more recent). Colin cleverly sidesteps this undead overload by not concerning itself much with human survival; we see plenty of people gobbled up, but we're not actually rooting for them to escape. (In fact, some of the victims don't seem to understand the concept of running away, so they're getting what they deserve.) Instead, we just want to find out what happens to our guy, Colin.
First, please be aware that director/writer/producer Marc Price shot Colin for about $70 on an old MiniDV camcorder. This will forgive a lot; with that budget in mind, Colin's quite an achievement. Price is able to establish an unsettling mood from the very first scene, when Colin (Alastair Kirton) arrives bloodied yet still human at a friend's house and tries to clean himself up after some unseen battle. Price effectively uses the technical limitations of his equipment to Colin's advantage, with grainy footage and a handheld point of view that often blurs the action into streaks of light and shadow. When Colin is attacked by his zombified friend (and gets bitten in the process), you can barely follow the battle. It's rough, herky-jerky filmmaking in a style that wavers between inept amateurism and art-school pretension—but nevertheless works well enough to sustain a sensation of creepiness through the course of the movie.
Once transformed, Colin stumbles out into a London chock full of hungry zombies wandering about and looking for lunch. (Question: How do feral zombies know not to attack each other?) We see the city through his eyes, not knowing if the loud popping sounds in the distance are gunshots or buildings on fire. People are being chomped, others are fighting for their lives. Colin gets attacked by a couple of guys who apparently want his shoes. (Another question: Are zombies really worth mugging? Seems like more trouble than it's worth.) He's saved by his sister and her boyfriend, and she thinks she can convert him back to humanity. (It doesn't go well.) Later, we see all sorts of travesties as the city devolves into chaos, with some people taking advantage of it, while others join gangs to fight back the zombie hordes; it becomes difficult to see who's worse, humans or zombies.
While much of the cast looks like friends of the director in bad makeup, Price ably uses his non-HD camcorder to get around these visual shortcomings—he knows how to shoot and edit murk. I'm not so sure if he could manage to pull off this trick twice for another (presumably non-zombie) movie, but it holds together well enough in this one.
Is Colin entertaining? That's another matter, one that may be predicated on your own devotion to the genre. If you enjoy the occasional Hollywood horror film at your local multiplex, then Colin is not going to do much for you. There's no story per se, and the special effects won't threaten to make you ralph into your popcorn. But, on the other hand, if you read every horror blog, can cite genre titles long forgotten by most critics, and watch every international underground effort on your laptop, then Colin is inspiring stuff. It shows that in this digital age, even with the smallest budget and most rudimentary equipment, you can make a fresh idea into a movie that people will pay attention to; Colin made into the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.