New York and Los Angeles had their heydays as post-apocalyptic dystopias in the 80s and early 90s, now it’s time for them to step aside and let another city take their place as the world’s most infamous metropolis on the verge of total collapse, chaos and annihilation: Berlin. Yes, that’s right. The capitol of Germany might have gotten off lightly more than once in the past, but now it’s all coming back at her big time, because in Rammbock (which means Battering Ram in English) a highly contagious virus has turned most of the city’s population into bloodthirsty freaks who’ve got nothing but murder and mayhem on their crazy minds.
Hence, when Michael (Michael Fuith), an inconspicious everyman from Austria with a heart of gold but the self-confidence of aspen leaves shaken by a strong October breeze, arrives in Berlin to win back his ex-girlfriend Gabi (Anka Graczyk), it doesn’t take long until the first attacker—a homicidal plumber who is foaming at the mouth—goes after him in a killing frenzy. With the help of the plumber’s apprentice, a 16-year-old kid by the name of Harper (Theo Trebs), our unvoluntary hero manages to fight back the raging maniac and, due to a lack of alternatives, the two unlike companions entranch themselves in Gabi’s deserted flat, where they learn about the epidemic from the news shortly before the whole radio and television system collapses and the city drowns in total anarchy. Still unable to think of anything else than his former fiancé, Michael now makes plans of how to find and rescue Gabi despite her dim chances for survival amongst the ravaging hell outside.
Though the basic plot of Rammbock —a film which many have called the first German language zombie flick with a modest budget in spite of the fact that the movie’s fiends aren’t even undead—sounds rather conventional, the film’s overall approach is quite a bit different from your everyday epidemic flick. With its melancholic, slightly pessimistic undertone, Rammbock puts its emphasis not on the gut-munching, flesh-eating and blood-spilling, but rather focusses on the struggling protagonists’ attempts to keep their heads up in a hopeless world devoured by carnage. Shot on 35mm, the film looks quite appealing and realized by a competent cast and crew, it features not only a well-written script and some very good acting and direction, but it also confronts us with a bunch of believable characters whom we actually care about quite a lot. Since most of the shooting took place on location in a down-and-out block of flats in one of the less wealthy parts of the city, the overall atmosphere of Rammbock is pretty authentic and the events presented throughout the course of the movie appear more “real” than in most films of a similar kind. In regard to its tone and feel, Marvin Kren’s apocalyptic vision of a languishing Berlin’s unavoidable downfall is definitely closer to a thoughtful arthouse horror film like Let The Right One In than a Romero-esque splatter fest a la Dawn Of The Dead. The casual usage of black humor, however, prevents the movie from being completely depressing and shows us that even in the most hopeless situation; a little chuckle every now and then is not totally out of place.
Genre-wise, Rammbock doesn’t limit itself to the conventions of the classic horror movie, but also throws in equal shares of thoughtful character study and unobstrusive love story. While one of the characters, Michael, seems to have lost the love of his life forever in the gruelling chaos on the streets, another one, Harper, finds romance among the ruins when he makes the accquaintance of Anita (Emily Cox), a beautiful young woman living right across the yard from Gabi’s appartment. Hope and optimism on the one hand and despair and disheartenment on the other are closely intermingled in Rammbock and hence the film is both, a devastating showcase of society’s ultimate decline as well as an uplifting plea to keep the faith no matter how bleak one’s situation might be.
This being said, it should come as no surprise that Rammbock is definitely not your typical over-the-top blood feast that entertains the audience with cool-as-ice one-liners, larger-than-life hero figures and no-holds-barred splatter effects. Instead, the film rather resembles a simple but all the more touching slice-of-life tale about a bunch of totally average people’s desperate attempts to cope with the end of the world as they know it.
As you should have found out by now, I enjoyed Rammbock quite a bit, however, there’s one thing that rather left me puzzled, namely the film’s unusual playing time of roughly more than 60 minutes. I don’t wanna hold this against the movie at all, because the story envolves and closes just fine within this short time span, but it is still kinda strange to see the end credits roll over the screen that early. Let’s just hope that this shortness—which leaves Rammbock floating somewhere in the grey area between short film and feature film—won’t limit the movie’s commercial possibilities too much, because, as said before, it is a mighty fine fright flick which tackles the old “contagion” scenario in a rather uncommon way and which I wholeheartedly recommend to all horror fans out there, who’d like to see what happens when a ravaging virus spreads rapidly across the old continent and turns the city of Berlin into hell on earth!
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