Reviewed by Michael Erb
Apocalypse of the Dead is actually a 2009 Serbian film released under the name Zone of the Dead; the first Serbian zombie movie ever. Its main attraction is Dawn of the Dead actor Ken Foree once again battling zombies in the lead role (he’s also credited as an associate producer). None of these factors give a good impression of the film’s quality and would fill even the strongest zombie fan with bargain bin dread. But, somehow, the movie isn’t all that bad. There are some parts that don’t succeed, but overall Apocalypse of the Dead is charming and fun.
The writing is actually decent. The story flows smoothly from one group of survivors to the next with no trouble and immediately establishes clear voices for all the major players. Characters have a bit of meat to them, there are some good lines, and all the plot threads come together in a ludicrously violent finale. The movie shifts tonally to an action film in the finale, but it works by embracing some over the top violence. Once you see a religious crusader mow down zombie children with twin sub machine guns, the movie goes for some absurd action humor. There are some political elements that surface later in the film that might be unfamiliar to non-Serbians and those who don’t know the region’s history, but it doesn’t stop the fun one bit.
There’s certainly some Romero influence in here and a few homages to Romero’s work with Ken Foree on Dawn of the Dead. Foree utters a line that’s very close to his famous one from the Romero zombie movie, making it the third time he’s had to say something on film about a lack of room in Hell. The survivors even discuss the possibility of seeking shelter in a shopping mall, only for Foree to tell them that he knows the dead would still get in. The references walk the line between cute fan service and annoying pleas for fan love, but they still earn a laugh.
The zombies are all Romero, but you can also see John Carpenter’s influence on directors Milan Konjević and Milan Todorović. Apocalypse of the Dead becomes that kind of Howard Hawks-like siege movie that Carpenter has made time and time again. The scenario for the movie is highly reminiscent of Assault on Precinct 13, with the survivors seeking shelter in an abandon police station. The film focuses on the conflict between people from various backgrounds and a faceless, homogenized horde. Everyone gets to have a character moment while securing entrances and fighting off the undead. The Interpol agents and the unnamed prisoner earn a begrudging respect for one another over the course of the film. These familiar tropes are part of why the movie works despite limits in cast and production value.
On a technical level, Apocalypse of the Dead is mostly successful. The action is handled very well for a pair of first time directors. Everything is framed nicely and the camera only has a few missteps. There are lots of shaky cam angels which never hinder the clarity of the action but do get annoying after a while. The gore and makeup effects are great. The zombies have a lot of detail in their graying, decaying skin. There some issues with the audio and dubbed dialogue, but it makes the movie fun in a bad.
The cast has some good choices and a few minor misses. Ken Foree and Kristina Klebe both flesh out their characters of Agent Mortimer Reyes and Agent Mina Milius respectively. Their body language and line delivery illuminate the layers in each character. It’s Emilio Roso as the unnamed prisoner who really seems to be having fun. He’s got good comedic timing that pulls of the script’s many one liners. The supporting and bit players for the most part aren’t that great. Their delivery is usually stilted and unenthusiastic, and the dubbed performers sound awkward. Again, this is nothing that can’t be seen as some “so bad it’s good” moments.
Apocalypse of the Dead is surprisingly entertaining and filled with genre love. There’s good action, a good story, and a lot of reverence for the genre filmmakers who inspired this production. It’s definitely a good first outing for the directors and for Serbian zombie movies.