I Eat Dead People...

Cinemagoers are hardly starved for zombie flesh. In the same week that Irish filmmaker Stephen Bradley brings us his High School zombie movie Boy Eats Girl, the maestro of the genre, George A Romero opens Land of the Dead, the fourth in his series of flesh-eating flicks. Although they are very different films, Bradley’s underwritten suburban comedy slash horror slash waste of time doesn’t bear the comparison well.

Seventeen year-old Nathan (David Leon) has fallen in love with his school friend, local fox Jessica (Samantha Mumba) but he just can't pluck up the courage to ask her out. Their friends, geeky sidekicks Henry and Diggs (Laurence Kinlan and Tadhg Murphy) decide to help cupid along by setting up a date where Nathan can, er, spill his guts to his nascent love. However, Jessica’s interfering father (played by Bryan Murray) discovers the plan and she misses their date. Later, while running through a movie-friendly rainstorm, Nathan thinks he spots Jessica having sex in a car with a sleazebag classmate. Distraught, the unrequited Romeo drinks a naggin of whiskey, plays a few depressing heartache records and winds up hanging himself in his bedroom. On finding his lifeless body, his mother Grace (played by the directors wife, Deirdre O’Kane) seizes on an old book of voodoo spells she has discovered in the bowels of a ruined church. She performs a restorative ritual in their kitchen, using teapots, newspapers and chicken hearts, and magically brings him back to life. When he wakes up the next morning, Nathan knows nothing of what has happened, but has a new found hunger for human flesh, superhuman strength and an even more remote attitude to life than his listless, disenfranchised pals. Later, outside the school disco, Nathan acts on his new desires, taking chunks out of the student body and setting in train a series of events that spreads his infection through the student body, with gory results. As mom tries to find a way to reverse the spell, having discovered the book had a vital page missing, Nathan struggles to rein in his new desires, save his friends from the advancing horde of revenants and win the heart of the gorgeous Jessica.

Bradley uses the tropes of zombie cinema to explore the real horrors of teenage existence; classroom bullies, peer pressure, social awkwardness and the stomach-clenching anxieties that whirl around the first flush of love. As penned by Derek Handy (Dead Bodies), Girl is a wholly self-aware teenage romp that takes as its inspiration the American high school comedies and screaming horrors. With his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Nandy trots out a familiar series of off-the-shelf characters, lilting dialogue and clichéd set ups. None of it is all that inspired, the jokes are weak and predictable and the whole enterprise suffers badly from not having any real balance between its American inspiration and Irish setting. The splattering special effects work from Image Effects is a little more successful, culminating in an entertaining free-for-all with a tractor-mounted hedge strimmer and a small army of stumbling zombies.

Writing comedy is difficult and time-consuming, and without being too po-faced about it, requires a careful hand in making jokes about teenage depression and death. In the scene that gave the Irish film censor reason for pause, Nathan is driven to his suicide in the most asinine way. If heartache and whiskey were all that were required to top oneself, very few of us would have escaped adolescence. I know it’s a movie, and as a zombie movie, requires a death as a starting point for mayhem, but it’s so clumsy and illogical, so foolish at its core that the remainder of the film must collapse, built as it is on straws. As a heartbroken teenager, Leon is a bit of a flop, overly mannered and self-aware. As the object of his desire, the kick-boxing Mumba does much better, even if her tough-girl character is occasionally poorly served by offering nothing beyond a wonky grin and some tender eyelash flapping. The remainder of the ravenous undead, a budget-restricted army of about seven, hardly a horde at all and a complete misunderstanding of the true psychology of zombie cinema, play their one-note characters well within themselves. Sara James as class slut Cheryl is the sole stand-out. See, zombies are frightening because they congregate as a mob, all with one thought in their minds. A handful of undead revenants, no matter how tongue-in-cheek, just cannot offer any sense of dread. Rather than approach the scale and knuckle-chewing vision of Romero, Bradley takes his inspiration from the backyard splatter of Peter Jackson’s Braindead. Even when compared to that Boy Eats Girl barely passes muster.

I was deeply disappointed by Boy Eats Girl, thinking that it offered an opportunity to send Irish film in a new direction, but it actually sets the cause back by failing to match the low standards required for a B Movie, never mind inventing a new genre for home grown cinema. There’s a good case to be made for increasing production on cheap, quick genre films in the Irish industry, taking the international success of Korean and Australian cinema as a touchstone. But, and it’s a big but, genre doesn’t have to mean second rate and Bradley’s lacklustre film is exactly that.

1 comment:

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