A few years ago, evil supernatural spirits and torture-obsessed psychos were the dominant forces driving the horror genre but more recently these ghostly abominations and serial sickos have been replaced by the unstoppable force of the zombie horde. It seems anyone with a camera, a large bottle of ketchup, some white face paint and a willing group of friends who are happy to stumble around back alleys moaning have tried their hand at producing their own Night Of The Living Dead, and there have been a huge number of zombie films shuffling over the horizon recently, all varying in quality, from the high end to the low rent.
Thankfully, The Horde is very much at the premium end of the quality scale. Like its kindred Gallic spirits, Switchblade Romance, Martyrs and Frontier(s) (whose director Xavier Gens served as executive producer on this film), The Horde is another example of the French investing high production values to reinvent horror for a modern audience, here producing a pacy, exciting and gory romp into the world of the undead. The set-up is simple: four corrupt Parisian coppers decide to hunt down the gang who killed their colleague, but after tracking them to an abandoned block of flats, and disastrously attempting to kill the ringleaders, the two disparate groups are forced to team up to defeat the zombie horde when the dead start to inexplicably rise again.
Fans of the genre will instantly recognize many of the trappings that come with a zombie film, and in this sense the film offers nothing new, but The Horde‘s originality stems from its claustrophobic location and the intensely strained relationship between the cops and robbers. The banter between the characters is excellent throughout and the film manages to cleverly shift your sympathies from one set of survivors to another as the story progresses, making it all the more difficult to guess which characters are going to make it out alive. The action too is fast, furious and thrilling – try to stop yourself from cheering when Claude Perron’s tough cop takes on a zombie woman in perhaps the best hand-to-hand bitch fight ever caught on film.
Perhaps the film’s closest relation is the videogame Left 4 Dead, with the game’s four main character types (a black businessman, a hardcore biker, a war veteran and an imposing woman) all represented in the film. And one scene in particular, where a character stands atop a vehicle in an underground car park surrounded by a mass of zombies, seems like it has been lifted straight out of L4D, which, given the game’s popularity, is no bad thing.
The film does have its faults – for one, after learning that zombies stop moving when headshot, why do the living persist in shooting them in the body? – but, overall, The Horde stands out as a well-produced, smart zombie thriller in what is fast becoming an oversaturated market. As the French would say, mmm cerveau!
Check out Screenjabber.com for full coverage of FrightFest 2009.
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