The horror genre is one of the most interesting ones in the film. The genre manages to not only entertain by putting characters into situations that most of us would find very uncomfortable to be in. But it also gives us the chance to explore social issues and the core nature of human being by putting the characters in those situations. It is fascinating and one of the best places to work in the realm of speculative fiction. However, with each passing year, making horror movies becomes a bigger challenge. Alive, a new zombie movie, tries but fails to have its own space in the genre.
The film is written and directed by David Marantz and stars Ellen Hillman, Kian Pritchard, Neil Sheffield, Stuart Matthews, Angus Kennedy, Gillian Broderick, and Andrew May-Gohrey. The film tells the story of Helen, a young survivor in this post-apocalyptic world that has been ravaged by a zombie outbreak. Helen will travel the land along with her boyfriend Kevin and her little brother Barney, who seems to have been infected, and is slowly transforming into a zombie. While searching for help, they will find something else that they do not want.
The first thing to notice about Alive is its very generic title, which barely tells you anything about the movie you are about to watch. There are zero calls to action, zero interest, or intrigue being generated in the audience from the get-go. The second thing is the extremely low budget the movie is working with. In part, trying to create a world that feels faithful and consistent with the story you are trying to tell is one of the most important things when making a film. For example, James Cameron would not do Avatar until the technology was good enough for his vision.
However, there are many other films that aim too high when it comes to trying to tell a story in a world they cannot conceivably create because they lack the resources to do it. More often than not, the result of those adventures is a failure to place the story in the right setting. Alive suffers from this at every step. The movie wants to tell the story of a zombie outbreak, but it cannot do it well because it just doesn’t have the resources to do it effectively. Everything from the sets to the weapons, costumes, and they make all look like they were done with no budget at all.
At one point, the limitations on the budget might wear on the audience’s suspension of disbelief. This is Marantz’s first feature film, and we are clearly in front of a director that is still trying to find how to do his job. Making movies is quite hard. It requires a great number of people all working together towards a single goal, and sometimes intuition becomes the single most efficient tool a director has in their belt. So, it is hard to fault Marantz for some results in this movie, but maybe he should have gone with a smaller, less ambitious film if his abilities are not yet at the necessary level.
The filmmaking is quite strange in this movie. The rhythm of the overall piece feels truncated as if it stumbles in every single scene. The dialogue is delivered in such a weird way, and the audio mix feels just wrong. The voices feel like they are in constant echo, and there are these odd transitions and fade to black that really doesn’t feel like they are being used in the right place. It makes the movie a very peculiar watching experience because you know that the scene you’re watching just needs better dialogue and acting to work, but it doesn’t have it.
The blocking also feels extremely unnatural, like the actors are having a hard time reaching their marks in time, and then the camera doesn’t really know where to look when they are moving. Sometimes there are inserts that just make certain sequences confusing and the fact that the framing also feels off, makes things worse. This is a very good first attempt at a movie, but maybe Marantz and his team. But they need some more experience before trying to push a movie like this into a market that is filled with so many movies that are done so much better.
In the end, Alive feels like a movie that doesn’t really manage to reach its goal. The story is an amalgamation of many other zombie movies and TV shows, like the Walking Dead and also even I Am Legend towards the end. It never feels like its own story or even a story that is worth telling, at least not at this level. Ellen Hillman comes up on top of a cast that feels like they are rehearsing instead of actually trying to get the scene. She is charming, and while not the best actress at the moment, she has what it takes to lead a film.
There are so many better options to watch out there, that Alive really feels like it has no chance to carve out its own space. Let’s hope Marantz and his team can keep trying in the future and that the resources they need, and their own abilities, are up to par with the ambition of the story.