[Fantasia 2021 Review] 'Brain Freeze' is the Refreshing Fertilizer the Zombie Genre Needs
There’s a bevy of selfish reasons for why the rich would screw us all, but here’s one you might not have expected: Golf…
…For the last year or so, a popular mantra of us liberals has been to “eat the rich”, and in Julien Knafo’s sophomore feature out of Canada that just premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival, Brain Freeze, it’s the rich that bring that phrase to a chilling reality and begin munching on themselves, all because they want to play a little golf year round.
Brain Freeze takes place in a gated community that is so gated they live on an island where the only way out is a single bridge. When some rich assholes decide to use a new fertilizer from a biotech company called Biotech M to melt the snow and genetically modify the grass so that they can play golf year-round, the water becomes contaminated, turning residents into eco-friendly, grass-sprouting zombies and leaving a few survivors trapped and forced to turn their loved ones into mulch if they have any hope of escaping the island.
Between The Walking Dead and countless others, it’s understandable to feel like there are no more intestines to pull when it comes to zombie movies, but for those looking for something fresh, Brain Freeze is some much-needed fertilizer for the walking dead genre.
Brain Freeze is an anti-rich zombie movie that relishes in the destruction of the upper class through their own doing. The neighborhood which the film takes place in is the type where every house looks unaffordable from the outside, and like a goddamn, unlived in museum on the inside. It’s the type of place where a kale popsicle is the prime dessert, and everyone is a bit of a pretentious, soulless husk. Prime real estate for a zombie breakout.
Instead of following the rich themselves, Knafo puts the focus on characters who haven’t sold their soul for a buck, including young tech-geek Andre (Iani Bedard), a loner who spends most of his time playing videogames, neighborhood security guard, Dan (Roy Dupuis), a loner in a different sense as a doomsday believer who has been preparing for the apocalypse, and Andre’s nanny, Camilla (Claudia Ferri). Oh, and let’s not forget Andre’s baby sister, aka, the cutest toddler to ever appear in a zombie film who steals the show often with well-timed, cute baby looks. Brain Freeze isn’t interested in exploring the grey area of people, diluting our heroes down to purely “good”, while our money-grubbing human villains, such as twin assassins known only as The Protocole (Mylene Mackay) are as ruthless as ruthless gets. It’s simple. Rich = bad. Not rich = good.
Seems about right.
Knafo and cinematographer Marc Simpson-Threlford establish an upper-class world that has isolated itself to its own detriment, emphasized by quick zoom outs that show how far away from civilization the island residents really are. A visually pleasing green and white aesthetic that goes so far as to have one house filled with green balloons works two-fold, letting us practically smell the money in the too-clean neighborhood, while pairing nicely with the green zombies hellbent on shattering the town’s false sense of security. And oh, is it a blast to watch the undead tear this pompous community to shreds.
But it’s those zombies that are where Brain Freeze really rips away the rotten flesh from the genre and adds a new layer.
The flesh-munchers in Brain Freeze give a whole new meaning to “going green”, as these zombies are given a unique look with eyes and skin that are a vibrant green. They bear a vague resemblance to creatures you might see in an Italian contamination film, such as Fulci’s Zombie 3, dribbling green goop from their mouths and bleeding the stuff as well. Brain Freeze is surprisingly lacking in human gore, but uses the color of the zombie’s blood as an excuse to shed as much of it as possible. There is so much green gore in this film, it’s like taking a ride in a juice blender from Troll 2, and just as frantic, too. The walking dead in this film may be half-plant, but they move just as quickly as the infected in 28 Days Later, making for some effective jump scares throughout, and a few good laughs, as well.
Gallons of green goop cover the screen, and you may never want to eat kale again after watching Brain Freeze. Not that you do anyway, but still.
Brain Freeze is a nasty, slippery, slime-covered zombie flick, with a quirky sense of humor to go along with the gross-out mayhem. With lines like Andre asking a zombie “did you overdose on kale?”, this is a film that is never taking itself too seriously, but isn’t going to have you rolling in the grass with laughter, either. Outside of the gore and a pair of strange twins, Knafo keeps the film restrained without going too wild.
Outside of some solid direction, a bristling commentary on social economics, and a clever approach to zombies though, Brain Freeze is more or less your average freezer food. A great snack, but one that leaves you somewhat unsatisfied.
Part of that is due to a lack of meaningful change in the characters (or their under-usage in the case of the twins). Like an overstuffed green pepper, Brain Freeze also packs in underwhelming storylines that never quite go anywhere, such as the inclusion of a racist radio host (Jean Pierre-Bergeron) that serves the thematics of the film, but arguably slows down the pacing too often to justify that.
Simply put, Brain Freeze is a film that flirts with greatness, without ever quite reaching the yummy brains of success.
That doesn’t mean Knafo’s film isn’t fun though. Brain Freeze is a riot. It won’t chill you to your core, but it’s that rare zombie flick that shambles onto the scene with a fresh approach that works as an entertaining callback to a time when zombie films were a little weirder and goopier. Brain Freeze is a tasty treat that zombie fans are going to eat up.
By Matt Konopka
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