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by Jay Seaver

"Berlin undead, potential unfulfilled."
3 stars

"Rammbock" is far enough outside what usually the parameters of what shows up on multiplex screens - a low-budget German horror movie so short that only an hour and fifteen minutes passes between the lights going down and the last credit, even with a repeated preview and a draggy shorty accompanying it - that the expectation is that it must be extraordinary. After all, this wouldn't be one of four horror movies chosen for a national release (albeit one that gets eight or nine screenings total per location over the course of a month) unless it were too brilliant to be denied, right? Well, that's not the case. It's pretty good in spots and clever in others, but not the sort of thing to make plans for.

Michael (Michael Fuith) and Gabi (Anka Graczyk) broke up some time ago, but Michael has not really accepted it yet; he's just made the trip from Vienna to Berlin to return her keys rather than just dropped them in the mail because what he really wants to do is convince her to get back together. When he gets to her apartment, she's not there, but a workman of some sort is, and he's come down with one of those highly-contagious diseases that makes him crave human flesh and not communicate so well. Another worker, Harper (Theo Trebs), helps him dispatch the infected guy and barricade themselves in the apartment, but in the process Michael drops his phone in the hall. Now it's ringing, Michael is convinced that it's Gabi calling for help, and there's not much room to fall back - they can see other people stranded in their apartments across a courtyard that fills with infected whenever someone tries to make a break for it.

It's not a bad set-up at all, especially for a feature being shot on an indie budget - a basically contained location, a small cast, the effects limited to some well-practiced prostheses. Director Marvin Kren does fairly well by his limited resources; we get to know the location well enough to feel things tighten up as Michael and Harper are forced to fall back, and he's able to get shocks from just gore; perhaps the most horrifying scene has a victim simply disappearing amid a horde of ravenous flesh-eaters.

He's got a good core cast to help with that. Michael Fuith's part is deceptively difficult; although he seems like a one-note character that might be played for laughs in other movies - he's the guy who, in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, is more worried about getting back with his old girlfriend than the immediate mortal peril - he plays it straight enough and believably enough to make it work. When we think of Michael, it's more for his good heart than his occasional cluelessness. Theo Trebs plays more straight-ahead as Harper, pragmatic but young and uncertain enough that he doesn't come off as bullying Michael. Anka Graczyk's part is necessarily smaller, but she shows us a complicated history and present with Michael when she does appear, human and less settled than she might like.

The rest of the cast are fine in smaller roles as well, but that serves to highlight the film's biggest flaw: It really is much too short. The situation with the neighbors suggests a bunch of situations that could be fleshed out in an interesting way, and writer Benjamin Hessler comes up with a twist on the zombie virus set-up that could extend the "zombies as metaphor for X" deal in a number of interesting ways in a movie with a broader scope, but this one just doesn't have the room for it. The pacing also winds up a little weird; where one would think it might be rushed, it actually lacks urgency.

And I have to admit, that's kind of surprising; most horror movies could really do with cutting the fat even if it gets them down to below regular feature length, whereas "Rammbock" tends more toward unmet potential.

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originally posted: 05/10/11 14:04:51
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6/30/11 Jaime Hutchins best zombie movie ever! 5 stars
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  04-May-2011 (R)



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