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Extinction (2015)
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by Jay Seaver

"Endless winter and zombie plagues just make it worse for feuding neighbors."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Extinction" starts off problematically, with a prologue that involves three people doing what seems like the same dumb thing in a row, leading to nearly everybody getting killed by zombies. It's the sort of thing that has the audience bracing for a tidal wave of stupidity, especially when the bulk of the movie winds up being two people living in their old houses but not talking until nine years later. Surprisingly, though, the center of the movie works pretty well.

One of those people is Jack (Jeffrey Donovan), trying to raise a daughter after the zombie apocalypse (which seems to have triggered a mini-ice age for good measure). Monsters haven't been seen for a while, but he's still naturally worried about keeping Lu (Quinn McColgan) safe, including from Patrick (Matthew Fox), the neighbor he considers deeply untrustworthy. Lu, as it turns out, is a bright and curious kid, sneaking out to pet Patrick's dog by the fences. Both Jack and Patrick have been raiding nearby houses and shops and now have to go further out, in their forays, where they find that the cold hasn't necessarily killed the zombies off.

Most movies in the genre will make sure that something undead shows up every fifteen minutes or so, but the filmmakers hold back here, implying that the men are prisoners of their own fear as they are defending themselves against a threat. There's a nifty sort of tension in this center even though not a lot is really happening; the audience gets to mull over the isolation of the situation and the way others react: Jack seems to have purpose in bringing up Lu while Patrick has unraveled, and Lu is a kid despite her situation. There's a bitter note to her seeming healthy development as the audience wonders about it being pointless, but its not overpowering.

It's a situation that calls for a little bit of acting, and the cast is a little more familiar than that of most zombie pictures heading to VOD in fairly short order. Jeffrey Donovan makes Jack stable and loving but also kind of rigid, despite his obvious soft spot for Lu; in some ways he's the best possible dad for the end of the world despite his ability to hold onto a grudge. Matthew Fox does well to make Patrick a mess but one who is holding it together a bit better than it might seem; he can't escape how he has been self-destructive and that weighs on him even as he's trying to get by. Against those two, Quinn McColgan's Lu is an upbeat red-headed ray of light; Lu may chafe at her father's restrictions, but McColgan keeps it more a result of a kid's natural state of excitement and curiosity rather than anger, and she's very good at hitting just the right comedic notes to keep the film from settling into a dour rut.

The trick with a movie like this is opening up the world the right amount at the right time, and I don't know if director Miguel Ángel Vivas and co-writer Alberto Marini (from a Juan de Dios Garduño novel) quite nail that. As dramatic as the situation that makes up the core of the film is, any chance of a full future for Lu requires more than two father figures, but injecting that late in the game can feel like things being pulled out of nowhere. When Vivas does make a bid to inject some hope into the trio's life, it mostly works, but there's no mistaking that it feels odd.

Then snow-adapted zombies appear and all hell breaks loose, and the last act becomes some pretty great horror action. After holding back for much of the film, the creature crew gets to concentrate their efforts in some spiffy make-up effects for the new threat. Vivas builds a really fine siege in Patrick's house, splitting the cast up to keep individual confrontations manageable (and, of course, put the kid in greater danger while trying to keep her safe) but also giving them the ability to play off each other. The action itself is very well-done and inventively filmed, with Vivas doing a great job of cranking things up just a little bit more as things go on.

That finale is a satisfying action payoff to a movie that has been content to present itself as being more character-based, things that don't always go together well. It may not be the greatest possible snow-zombie family drama,but it's a lot more entertaining than that description may suggest.

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originally posted: 08/21/15 10:16:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  31-Jul-2015 (R)
  DVD: 01-Sep-2015



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