by Mel Valentin
Written, edited, and directed by Conor McMahon, "Dead Meat" apparently has the honor of being the first horror film produced in Ireland. It’s also the first Irish entry in the venerable, if nearly exhausted, zombie/undead sub-genre. "Dead Meat" attempts to capitalize on and pay homage to the familiar conventions of the undead sub-genre. Adding little in the way of innovative storytelling or visual style to the undead sub-genre, however, "Dead Meat" will be a hard sell for audiences already bored or beginning to become disinterested in another iteration of the slow-moving, ravenous undead (cue gruesome makeup and gore effects). What it lacks in novelty or originality, however, it makes up in its energy, pacing, and obvious enthusiasm for its illustrious (and not-so-illustrious) predecessors.The recent resurgence of the formerly marginalized undead sub-genre can be traced to 28 Days Later, a highly entertaining pastiche that unfolded as a kind of greatest hits of the undead (and which introduced the concept of “fast zombies” to contemporary, mainstream audiences) through 2004's remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (again featuring nearly unstoppable “fast zombies”) and Shaun of the Dead, a horror/comedy cum affectionate tribute to the key films in the undead universe, with special attention paid to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy and Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (a/k/a Bad Taste).
"A bloody, if derivative, good time with the undead."
Dead Meat is a straightforward apocalyptic survival tale. A plague of the undead, here tied topically to a mutant strain of “mad cow disease,” spreads through the Irish countryside, first attacking livestock and then spreading fitfully to the scattered human population. Apparently, nature has a sense of irony. A farmer’s cost-saving decision to feed animal parts to his cattle has caused the outbreak of the disease. Post-infection, the resurrected dead seek to satiate a near unquenchable hunger for living flesh. With a fast-spreading infection, escape from the country to the city centers seems unlikely. The army has smartly decided to quarantine the affected areas.
Enter Helena (Marian Araujo) and Martin (David Ryan), lovers on vacation in Ireland. Distracted by their self-involved conversation, Martin drives straight through a man standing in the middle of the road. Shaken by the incident, Martin and Helena decide to take the body to a nearby farm. You can guess where Dead Meat goes next. Martin gets bit by the undead passenger, Helena goes on foot to get help, only to find an eerily abandoned farmhouse. Martin reappears at the farmhouse, disheveled and slouching toward Helena. Helena only gradually awakens to the mortal peril Martin now presents, luckily escaping before shambling, farm implement-wielding zombies make their way into the farmhouse.
Lost and disoriented, Helena runs into another survivor, Desmond (David Muyllaert), the local gravedigger who knows his way around a shovel. Outside of a few mad dashes through the countryside to evade or fight through the hordes (hordes might be overstating the number of zombies the characters actually encounter), Helena and Desmond encounter only one other couple, Cathal Cheunt (Eion Whelan, unintelligible to non-Irish audiences) and his wife, Francie (Amy Redmond). Cathal and Francie luckily own a car, allowing the four characters to make a run toward one of the government-sanctioned safety zone. Not all of the characters make it, of course (no points for guessing who lives and who survives through the night). Suffice it to say that Dead Meat climaxes inside an abandoned castle, with the survivors furiously fighting off a zombie horde.
Fans of the sub-genre will be pleasantly surprised both by McMahon’s assured direction and editing, keeping the undead menace always within reach, but sprinkling the quieter moments with character exposition. The dialogue scenes are never allowed to adversely affect the pacing, which is all to the good. The makeup effects range from the passable to the judiciously gory. Dead Meat contains the obligatory zombies munching on the innards of one of their victims, plus some black comedy, of the shovel-through-the-head variety. McMahon and his cinematographer/cameraman/Steadicam operator Andrew Wegge exhibit the occasional flair for the dramatic composition or camera angle. The occasionally wavering handheld camerawork helps to add a sense of immediacy and claustrophobia. There’s an especially startling shot of Helena and Desmond in silhouette, walking across a hill as the cloud-covered sun hovers over them (a shot that surprisingly pays homage to a similar, well-known shot from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.
Where Dead Meat falters is in and through MacMahon’s decision (likely dictated by a limited budget) to film the nighttime scenes in minimal lighting. Given the short time frame involved (roughly eighteen hours), half of Dead Meat’s running time takes place at night. Probably due to budget limitations, McMahon and Wegge over-rely on natural light sources, e.g., flashlights, torches, and campfires, for the nighttime scenes, leaving audiences straining, and often failing, to follow the action.Technical issues aside, "Dead Meat" is a worthy, if derivative, addition to the undead sub-genre. Hopefully, McMahon will obtain a more adequate budget for his next film, whatever subject or sub-genre he decides to explore. Regardless of McMahon’s future filmmaking career, "Dead Meat’s" downbeat ending suggests McMahon influences cover a wider range of horror sub-genres, even as he unmistakably cites another underrated (and underseen) Romero 1973 horror film, "The Crazies." It helps to bring "Dead Meat" full circle to the origin of the infection and the necessary, if callow, response to the infected (or the potentially infected).
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10997&reviewer=402
originally posted: 07/16/05 09:36:26