Did you know that anyone can make a zombie movie? It’s true because last year, my cat made a zombie movie, and this month I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of a zombie film made by Osama Bin Laden. Yes, these days anyone who’s anyone comes up with the brilliant idea to make yet another low budget zombie film.
That is perhaps why whenever someone asks me to watch their independent horror film featuring zombies, I turn a little bit sour. Truth be told I kind of hate zombies. This is blasphemous according to approximately 95% of horror fans but I can’t help it if the recent fad has turned me cynical against a once exciting and entertaining sub-genre.
Through all the talk of the latest zombie films however, I remember hearing endless praise about Colin, a micro-budget zombie film that had taken the Cannes Film Festival by storm. Made on a budget of $75 and directed by Marc Price, Colin had been hailed by some as being on a similar level to that of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. As dubious as I was I felt I must give Colin a fair shot-- after all $75? Not to mention most of that money was spent on tea and cookies for the all the zombies. Yes, it was imperative that I saw this for myself.
In Colin, life bites (literally!) for Colin (Alastair Kirton) when, after becoming a zombie snack, he dies and returns as one of the undead. Wandering aimlessly through the streets of London, during the throes of a cadaverous apocalypse, we learn about Colin (from his perspective), who he was, and more pertinently, what he has become through his encounters with objects, places and people.
I was quite surprised and pleased to find that the first 8 minutes or so of the film are simple, subtle and non-talking moments of great build up. There were sounds off camera of explosions, gunshots and screaming, implications of the terrifying destruction enfolding throughout the city. I was pleased with this opening as it was a wonderful example of how such a low budget film could use its limitations to its advantage. When showing a full blown zombie apocalypse isn’t possible--hearing the sounds of one may in fact be better. There is a lot to be said for what is implied rather than what we are shown. I was also enormously pleased to find that although Colin is largely alone in these moments, there is not one shred of that annoying, self describing inner thought monologue that I hate. Everything we need to know about how Colin is feeling is read clearly on his face and in his emotions. Thank goodness someone gets the concept of acting.
After these moments, when Colin starts turning into a zombie, the film starts to take a very different route in its exploration of the genre. We are soon exposed to the actual shark if you will. Instead of basking in the glory of the subtlety of implications, the zombie apocalypse is made very clear and apparent to us. Here the extras are cued in, and the gore starts rising over the top. It’s very well done gore, I should add, and entirely surprising for a film made on such a tiny budget. Even sound effects are at their high point and it seems that the same techniques are rarely used more than once.
Colin’s main selling point comes from the idea that the film features a zombie outbreak shown through the eyes of a zombie. As far as I know this is something seldom seen these days. My main beef is that Colin at times is the least like a zombie of all the zombies he comes across. He is somehow missing that overly pale glow many of them have, and his facial expressions seem a bit too humane for me to handle. I would think this was intentional if it wasn’t for his staggering need to eat people and birds. Colin’s subtle humanization recalls memories of Bub the zombie. Ideas that yes, zombies can remember aspects of their lives as humans. The only problem is, we aren’t convinced well enough that this is the case with Colin. I suppose his remembrance is more of a veiled, subconscious one. We see him later being prompted to remember pictures held up by his sister, which amounts to nothing. But then again earlier we saw him following a girl who looked similar to his girlfriend. It’s all very back and forth but the idea of it all isn’t pulled off as well as it could have been.
The main lacking point of Colin is that it loses sight of what it initially sets out to do. For a film about one zombie, Colin often veers off into full blown zombie apocalypse territory a bit too much. Scenes featuring massive zombie outbreak action enfold for what feels like 15 minutes and Colin is nowhere to be found. We follow the plight of Colin’s look-alike girlfriend for what feels like 20 minutes, while Colin hides in the corner. Too much focus was often put on scenes that showed what else--the brutality of the humans against humans. We know that zombie films are largely more about we, the humans as the true villains. Colin however, promises to be a much different take on the zombie genre, and yet it’s continuously turning its back on the main character that we are suppose to be focusing on. If the journey is about Colin and seeing the world through his eyes, why are we so often seeing the world through all these other people? I wanted to stay with Colin and figure out more about him. Sure we get it at some point, but I felt the main idea was often lost amongst the white noise of all the zombies.
The final highly distracting element of the film is the fault of the low budget I’m afraid. Price favors the shaky cam style of filmmaking and I must say that it’s a choice that greatly limits the film. In pivotal moments of zombie action, the camera is so shaky that it’s nearly impossible to see what is going on. I’m surprised I didn’t vomit onto my Snuggie. Not only that, some scenes are so dark, that I thought my DVD player had stopped working. Colin is at its best during its quieter moments which are sadly few and far between. This saddens me as I felt the film had so much promise during those opening moments.
Overall, Colin is mostly a disappointment. It’s a film that seems to be suffering somewhat of an identity crisis, verging on an emotional drama mixed with modern zombie hysteria. The ending may be one of the better parts about the film, but its implications seem to be more of an after thought. A few moments that make us sort of understand what the film was trying to do but in the larger scheme of things--happens far too late in the film for it to change our entire outlook. Colin could be much better with a stronger focus on its main theme, doing away with the shaky cam and cutting back on the cookies to afford some decent lighting. I can see its potential in those quieter moments though and it is extraordinary what it does on its little budget. I guess I just expected something much more from a film that is suppose to “revolutionize zombie cinema”.