Directed by Marko Makilaakso
2011, Germany/Italy/Lithuania, 85 minutes
There’s no villain quite like a Nazi, unless it’s a Nazi zombie. War of the Dead has plenty of Nazi zombies, along with Soviet zombies, Finnish zombies, and probably some American zombies. National identity gets less important the further along a zombie outbreak you are.
Anyway, War of the Dead takes us to the last days of the Second World War, where a joint American/Finnish task force is set to attack a Soviet-occupied bunker, which was once occupied by Nazis and the scene of horrific experiments. Then, zombies happen—I don’t mean to sound glib. There are other things going on in this movie, like character development, backstory, and that sort of thing. It’s just that director Marko Makilaakso has a talent for cutting away nonsense and focusing on what’s important to the film: the soldiers, their objective, and the horde of zombies between the two.
War of the Dead is exactly what it sounds like: a war. There are ambushes, running battles, holding fixed positions against the undead horde, fast escapes, infiltrations, and a final stand in a secret bunker. The vast majority of the film takes place at night, ratcheting anxiety levels up a few notches. There’s a lot of unmitigated action, but Makilaakso fends off any battle fatigue on the part of the audience by making the action both swift and varied. I should add that these zombies don’t just lurch: they dash, they’re innumerable, and they seem to be better at problem solving than most zombies. Rather helpfully, Makilaakso’s protagonists don’t just limit themselves to shooting their enemies. War of the Dead has a lot of great little hand-to-hand sequences too. They’re short, snappy, and terribly satisfying.
Things like character and backstory, although certainly addressed, are very underdeveloped in War of the Dead. That’s not a criticism. It’s perfectly fine, actually. The film plays to it’s strengths (non-stop zombie action) and minimizes its weaknesses. What that does mean, though, is that appeal for this film is very limited.
This paragraph contains spoilers. I almost hesitate to do this, but I would be remiss not to mention that part of the ending sequence is marred by very poor special effects. It’s noticeable because the rest of the film looks great, and it’s a bit of a disappointing note to end the film on.
Spoilers over. Credit where credit is due, War of the Dead gives us exactly what’s promised: zombies and war. It’s a movie for anyone who has ever burnt out playing Call of Duty’s Nazi Zombies. Obviously, that isn’t everyone, but that makes me love it more.
– Dave Robson
The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs October 20 though 27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit www.torontoafterdark.com.