To quote a famous TV duo from the 90s, “Nobody has any balls anymore.”
Okay, while that may not be entirely true, it does feel like a lot of directors, both indie and established, don’t exactly take many risks when it comes to certain projects. Too often nowadays it seems like every other film derives it’s plot from genre clichés that when piled up, make the film look, well, derivative and tired. With The Demented, writer/director Christopher Roosevelt enlisted the help of Steven Monroe (director of the I Spit On Your Grave remake and it’s sequel) to hopefully inject some fresh ideas into a film that boils down to the old “college kids traveling together to a remote locale for the weekend” trope.
Six college friends head out to a Louisiana bayou estate for a weekend getaway. Nothing out of the ordinary, save for the alcohol consumption and promiscuity. Things take a turn when a terrorist attack unleashes a missile carrying a biochemical warhead towards the Gulf coast, causing a quarantine. The bioweapon in turn causes those exposed to turn into feral, cannibalistic hordes. These hordes in turn head to the estate, intent on munching some teens.
In an attempt to stay away from the hints of 28 Days Later, which coincidentally also had rage zombies, Roosevelt spins his zombies a little differently. Instead of the feet-shuffling or roving types we’ve seen in other zombie films, these zombies are content to stay rigid until something provokes them. What provokes them, you ask? Rather than being attracted by the sight or smell of potential victims, zombies in The Demented are attracted and driven nuts by sound. This not only provides the necessary unique twist, but also leads to genuinely intense moments where the group of teens have to silently navigate their way through groups of zombies. Nice! Also, in lieu of having our six protagonists communicating via sign language throughout the film and staying cooped up in the estate (which obviously wouldn’t be fun), the group is almost constantly on the move. As such, the pace of the movie moves along quite nicely.
When it comes to the gore factor, the film relies on the less-is-more approach in some cases, which is unfortunate but is one of the drawbacks to having a low budget film. To offset this, the stunt crew looks to have cranked it up a notch with the stuntwork. Zombies in The Demented don’t mess around, leaping through windows and doors, almost flying across the screen. The quick cuts and angle of shots also helps to beef up these moments, which is admirable in the face of a miniscule budget. We still do get some CGI, although as expected it’s not the greatest. Then again, the same can be said for this movie as a whole.
Yes, in spite of Roosevelt’s efforts to differentiate The Demented from other low-budget zombie films, we’re still dealing with a me-too low-budget zombie film. The problems begin with the cast. Apart from Michael Welch’s turn as your typical smarmy son of a rich dad, the rest of the cast is pretty plain. No one makes a real endearing impression towards the audience, the dialogue is dreadful and the idea of college students being so self-absorbed in their own manufactured drama over stolen boyfriends and other trivial issues is a weak excuse for characterization. Also, despite these kids being in college, they make some pretty stupid moves. Case in point: after beating a rabid dog to death, one of the group decide to take it in to Animal Control. This is in spite of seeing a green mushroom cloud the day before and knowing about the terrorist attack.
In addition, the stuff I said about the pacing is in spite of the fact that for the first 30 minutes of the film, there’s nary a zombie in sight. Just the group talking about relationships and the aforementioned rabid dog that forces the group to remain inside. While the recovery from the first half-hour is nice, the ending (or endings, to be exact) of the film spoils it. Instead of deciding on one definitive ending, Roosevelt pulls a daydream twist that effectively undoes the one ending. The result may be satisfying, but it’s something that we’ve seen before in better films.
Despite his tinkering, Roosevelt’s The Demented is as derivative as it gets. The idea of rage zombies, the cliché characters and twist ending are all things we’ve seen before in much better films. To his credit, Roosevelt tried to mix things up and keep the movie from feeling stale, but it ultimately doesn’t separate the film from the rest of the pack. It’s not entirely bad, since the zombie attacks do carry some good tension and showcase frenetic energy, but it’s not entirely good, either. Ultimately, it’s another one for the “fire and forget” pile.
Presented in 1.78:1 1080p, the film is about what you’d expect for a low budget horror film. The overall image shows good detail with bright colour when needed. No excessive DNR or image sharpening to really speak of. There’s nothing spectacular, but it gets the job done.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is unfortunately more disappointing. Much of the action is focused in the front, with little in the way of deviation. Effects lack real punch, and the Casio keyboard score doesn’t do much when it comes to the surrounds. Even the dialogue has trouble standing out from the rest of this flat mix. The audio is definitely a sore spot.
Other than it being a combo pack with a DVD, nothing.