Bled White (2011) d. Jose Carlos Gomez (USA)
These days, the news that an independent filmmaker has made a low-budget zombie movie is about as shocking as hearing that the sun rose in the east. Like the slashers of old, the walking undead scenario provides ample opportunities for drama between surviving humans, action sequences, gunplay, characters yelling, “Run!” at the top of their lungs, and, of course, gut-ripping, flesh-tearing, blood-splattering gore showcases. Like the requisite pizza and beer that follows moving a friend’s furniture, even the lowest zombie flick offers some modicum of entertainment value; you have to work really hard to screw it up. The challenge is to deliver something tastier than Domino’s, more satisfying than Budweiser. The good news is that Chicagoland director Jose Carlos Gomez (who also wrote, shot, and edited the beast) has done just that with his wintry shambler epic, Bled White.
Against a desolate and rural Midwestern landscape, Gomez serves up relatable and likeable human characters (that most elusive of indie film elements) while paying homage to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction via onscreen chapter headings and fragmented narratives. We’re introduced to mercenary duo Ed (North Roberts) and Matt (Matthew Prochazka), out hunting down other humans to trade with twisted old couple Sam and Mary (Bruce Spielbauer, Kelli Tidmore) who’ve got their zombified son Victor (Jason Hoskot) chained up in the attic.
Moral dilemmas be damned, these guys plan to survive, and if they have to bump off their fellow neighbors for a couple gallons of gas or cans of fruit cocktail, so be it. The taciturn Ed and his younger sidekick don’t have much else in common – the former is fixated on an old VHS tape housing a corporate in-house educational film (or more precisely “Melissa,” the female star thereof), while the latter seems content to covertly knock boots with the shantytown hotel owner’s slatternly wife (Laura Locascio) and ride the apocalyptic storm out.
For our resident dysfunctional family, things are no less complicated. With their food supply (as well as Victor’s) running ever lower, Mary is torn between leaving the farm to search for sunnier climes or standing by her men, even though her boy is a gurgling skinbag and her spouse is a shell-shocked shadow of his former self.
A third storyline follows Natalie (Colleen Boag) and her boyfriend Joe (Christian Rogala), two young nomads taking shelter in various abandoned structures. These three couples’ paths intersect time and again, offering comfort, pain, death, mercy, companionship, betrayal, and hope – the stuff of which basic human drama is made – all while attempting to elude the constant threat of hungry (and fast!) cannibalistic ghouls on the prowl.
Through the simple acts of providing engaging protagonists, delivering surprising plot twists, and coaxing believable performances from his ensemble, Gomez is already way ahead of the curve. But the young artist also demonstrates genuine cinematic flair through his use of challenging camera moves and angles, as well as leaching the color from nearly every frame except for the occasional flash of red (a balloon, a dress, a shredded corpse).
Borrowing wholesale from Spielberg may not be the most original of approaches, but darned if it doesn’t work. (The nearly wordless balloon sequence is among the most eloquent and poetic viewers are likely to find in the annals of millennial no-budget zombie cinema.)
As for the minimal budget, the Skibofilms production team has certainly mastered the art of stretching a buck. Gomez and his able squad cover a lot of ground, with the myriad of locations making their onscreen world an expansive and exciting one. Tidmore, in addition to her solid thesping, ladles out the goopy goodies as the credited special f/x artist, spilling guts and inking up rotters with abandon (as well as getting behind the camera from time to time). Despite the occasional clunky line read, the assembled cast is more than passable, with Boag and Roberts leading the pack, and composer DC McAuliffe delivers a crunchy soundtrack that both sears and soothes according to the action.
Appropriating established themes and cinematic devices is nothing new, but not many aspiring filmmakers have the chutzpah and know-how to pull it off (for pennies) with such aplomb. Based on his work here, Gomez is clearly a rising talent worth keeping a close eye on.
Bled White is available now through Skibofilms, and can be purchased through their website HERE.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine