The most deadly part of a zombie apocalypse might not be the undead after all. It might be the part where you’re boarded up in a house with your family. That’s what the new Danish film What We Become argues. Playing out primarily in the confines of one terrified nuclear family’s home, writer/director Bo Mikkelsen’s film offers a remarkably compelling story thanks to the strong cast and well-drawn, genuine characters.
In the affluent suburb of Sorgenfri, Pernille (Mille Dinesen) and Dino (Troels Lyby) are trying to raise their two children right. Their youngest is a sweet, bunny-loving girl while their oldest child, Gustav (Benjamin Engell), is going through those misplaced teen rebellion years. When he’s not arguing with his folks, Gustav is peeping on the new girl Sonya (Marie Hammer Boda) across the street. Apparently some guys don’t know to turn off their bedroom lights when they’re ogling the half-naked neighbor through a pair of binoculars.
Their summer of BBQs and block parties comes to an abrupt end when a mysterious virus begins to spread. At first it’s just a few cases, then it spreads through the whole time and the army is sent in to quarantine the joint.
I know, I know. I’ve had it up to here with zombie flicks too. But here me out, man. While the circumstances of the outbreak aren’t anything new, What We Become never travels down the well-worn road of run-and-gun zombie movies. It remains fixated on the family and how their dynamics are put to the test under the most extreme situations. Mikkelsen takes his time firmly establishing the characters, so that when the shit hits the fan, the tension and terror is that much more palpable. Every violent action means something in this film, which leads to some downright heartbreaking moments.
Another great strength of the film is that it’s tonally concrete throughout. Whether we’re watching Gustav curse out his meek father or the military patrol the streets, What We Become maintains a deep atmosphere of melancholy. Some story beats may feel like they’re sad just for the sake of screwing with the audience’s emotions, but really everything that happens makes sense within the world Mikkelsen created.
Much of the film follows Gustav, but to me the real beating heart of the film is Dino, the father. I mentioned him being “meek” and in the beginning of the film he certainly is. He’s the “good guy” in the family. Pernille is left laying down the law to Gustav while Dino whistles his cares away. When a neighbor invites him hunting, Dino says he’d rather get up early and buy his meat at the grocery store. But in the end, he’s got to make some simply awful decisions. His arc is truly devastating and Troels Lyby is just so solid throughout the film’s short 80 minute run time.
What We Become is a refreshing approach to the tired zombie genre. It’s dramatic and powerfully gripping in its exploration of a family on the brink of doom. Check it out on the streaming rental service of your choice via IFC Midnight.
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