Tuesday, March 5, 2013

EATERS (2011) movie review

Eaters (2011) d. Boni, Luca / Ristori, Marco (Italy)

Approaching Eaters, it’s all too easy to fall into the “it’s just another zombie movie” fatigue style of critique, especially since on many levels, it is just another zombie movie. But the fact remains it’s a pretty darn good one and in a world full of lousy, incompetent, lazy, generic, uninspired, amateurish and forgettable gutmunching efforts, that’s enough to make me sit up and take notice.

Much of Eaters’ consistent ability to entertain has to do with the laws of compensation. Co-directors Luca Boni and Marco Ristori know that in order to maintain viewer attention with this well-traveled material, they need to keep the action moving, stakes high, characters engaging and gore running down the screen. (Ristori authored the screenplay with Germano Tarricone, while Boni handled much of the visual effects and post-production.) They deliver on all these points, providing truckloads of undead bang for the buck. There’s a robust cheapjack enthusiasm at play here that recalls some of fellow countryman Bruno Mattei’s finest hours (especially if one opts to watch the English-dubbed version as opposed to the original subtitled Italian).

The basic storyline, while never truly blossoming into defiantly original terrain, maintains a welcome level of creativity and passion. We are introduced into the post-apocalyptic world via a series of news flashbacks, reporting of a deadly new virus that has at first targeted the fertility of women, followed by the inevitable dead returning with a hunger for living flesh.

Holed up in a bunker, a mad scientist (Claudio Marmugi) continues his research for a cure, sending out two zombie hunters (Alex Lucchesi, Guglielmo Favilla) on occasion to find new striding stiffs with which to tinker.

But in this brave new world, it’s not just the shamblers one has to worry about – there are unpleasant bands of kill-crazy Neo Nazis about to keep things lively. (We never seem to learn much about them, except that they hold internal death matches to pass the time and make general nuisances of themselves with regards to our heroes.)

There’s also a mad artist who trades beer and supplies for fresh body parts to serve as still life subjects (get it?), as well as an enigmatic soul called “The Plague Spreader,” a sort of Patient Zero who apparently has lived up to his name.

The filmmakers have also gone out of their way to create engaging characters that warrant our attention and empathies. While none too deep, they are developed nicely as “types” and the actors more than fill their skins, both living and dead. Lucchesi clearly relishes his role as the macho grunt Igor and is nicely contrasted by the more sensitive but still badass Favilla as his fellow hired gun. The lovely Rosella Elmi isn’t given a lot of screen time as Favilla’s former amour, but she definitely makes the most of both her fragile, intelligent pre-infection state and a more gonzo, fevered characterization under the vicious virus’ influence. Marmugi commits wholeheartedly to his twitchy doc-gone-mad, and while a few more colors could have gone into his characterization, he serves the turn. Special guest stars include Steve Sylvester (front man for Italian metal band Death SS) and Italian porn superstar Francesco Malcolm, both of whom render small but memorable roles.

The cinematography is extremely well realized (especially considering its Canon 7D source), with an appropriately washed out color palette matching the lifeless landscape. While the digital wizards have been having their post-production way in the form of some accomplished CG backgrounds of smoking rubble, explosions, headshots and wastelands, there’s an admirable amount of practical latex effects and gore courtesy of the erstwhile team of David Bracci, Carlo Diamantini and Enrico Galli.

Time and effort has gone into the manifestation of these undead brutes – the easy street Karo syrup and food coloring route augmented by worthy latex mask work and prosthetics. The boys may have made “another low budget zombie movie,” but they’ve done themselves proud – it’s a top notch professional piece of work that shows both an appreciation of the genre and the ability to spin rotting dead gold from straw.

Eaters is “presented” by Uwe Boll, which may prove more hindrance than help given the man’s reviled standing among horror fans. In this case, it’s worth noting that he had nothing to do with the production at hand, merely serving as a distributor for what he deemed to be a worthwhile independent project. Even so, I'm one of the few who has gone on record stating that a goodly portion of Boll’s output has ranged from not-bad to pretty entertaining (Postal and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich come to mind). Yes, he’s definitely had some stinkers in his time, but for anyone who has bothered to follow his career, he’s been getting consistently better and he’s not going away anytime soon, so it might be worth checking that knee-jerk reaction, especially if it’s an ill-informed one. (Admit it – how many Boll flicks have you actually seen?) As Ristori and Boni say themselves on the behind-the-scenes featurette, Boll has been a friend to these low-budget filmmakers, lending his name and money to getting their labor of love out there. Before we all line up to throw stones based on a decade-old smear campaign, let’s take a moment to root for the little guy and maybe show some generosity toward an elder statesman trying to lend a hand.

Said featurette, a little over 30 minutes in length, is the only noteworthy special feature on Entertainment One’s recent North American DVD release (other than few teaser trailers), but it’s an enjoyable and endearing glance at the challenges faced by our Mediterranean boys and how they overcame them with molto corragio.

There’s no question that the film faces an uphill battle, what with its somewhat generic title, feeble tagline (“It’s feeding time”), double-edged Boll connection, and lack of promotional push. But as someone whose patience has been more than tested by the 21st century’s endless parade of soulless undead fodder, I assure you with the right set of expectations, Eaters earns its place on the menu.

EATERS is on sale now at Entertainment One’s website.

Runtime: 95 minutes
Format: 16x9 widescreen
Audio: 5.1 Italian Dolby Digital/2.0 English Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English

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