If there’s any proof that it may be time to give the zombie genre a rest for a while, the upcoming zombie-war film, Redcon-1, may be that last nail in the coffin…
…Let’s just be honest. Walking Dead has done for zombies what the Twilight series did to vampires. Tonally, the two aren’t comparable, but both have popularized the sub-genre’s so much that, frankly, we’re sick of it. At least I am. To stand out in those fields, films/shows need some bite, some originality, neither of which we really get with Redcon-1. Directed by Chee Keong Cheung (Underground) and written by Cheung, Steve Horvath (Rise of the Gargoyles) and Mark Strange, Redcon-1 tells the story of an elite (meaning kung-fu fighting) special forces squad, which is sent into a quarantine zone during a zombie outbreak to rescue a scientist who may have a cure for the disease. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s been done countless times before.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to rag on Redcon-1 for ragging’s sake. It’s only that the film is so beyond generic, that it begs the question of why we’re even here in the first place. Cheung opens the film with a military official giving a rundown to our lead, Captain Marcus (Oris Erhuero), and his team, feeding them and the audience so much basic info about zombies, that I almost wanted to scream, “yes, they’re zombies, we get it!” Very little is new here with the classic creatures, though to the film’s credit, Redcon-1 does appear to take inspiration from George Romero’s original script for Day of the Dead, in which the zombies were not only remembering aspects of life, but were carrying guns and moving like an organized group of soldiers. These fiends are a lot less organized, but they do carry firearms, which propels the film into full on action territory. It’s a neat idea and one that mostly works, except for a few unintentionally ludicrous moments, like zombies watching porn or standing around a fighter like a damn mosh pit. The first rule of zombie fight club is do not talk about zombie fight club.
Redcon-1 is all about the fighting. This is an action-packed film (not all of it effective), where the suspense and terror is secondary to loud gunfire and roundhouse kicks to rotting faces. Think The Raid meets World War Z. Like the latter film, Redcon-1 ignores the contained, trapped in a farmhouse mentality of most zombie films, and keeps the viewer in wide open war zones, in which our heroes often find themselves fist-fighting these creatures of the undead like a poor man’s version of Mortal Kombat’s Sonya Blade. Which all sounds like great fun, if not for the fact that Redcon-1 is emotionally flat, never fully committing to the comedy of the over-the-top fighting, or the terror of the situation. Instead, we’re treated to a Michael Bay-esque Transformers movie with zombies, all style, no substance. Redcon-1 moves at a quick cut, blink and you miss it rhythm, filled with meaningless action and marching to the beat of military drumming under the soundtrack. The zombies do bring some natural horror to the screen as they flood the frame like savage, hungry piranha, but the editing is so chaotic, I struggled to ever find myself in the right emotion for the scene.
And that’s the nasty, pus-filled boil on the film: we don’t care about these characters. I struggled to remember who was who, more or less care about them, with a cast of characters that lack any personality whatsoever. The filmmakers have a difficult time capturing the right emotion, whether it’s sadness, fear, anger, whatever, partially because the cast is constantly turning things up to eleven-I’ve never heard so much shouting of lines-or trying to fabricate feeling with overdramatic music and slow-motion, which again, fails to work because I don’t know anything about who’s being killed off. But, despite what the movie is trying to do, the core attraction of Redcon-1 is the zombie punching, which is choreographed quite well, so take all of that as you will.
Aside from all of its many, many flaws, Redcon-1 does have one major aspect going for it, and that is its relentlessly grim tone and bloody nature. This isn’t the kind of film that’s going to haunt you with its imagery, but what’s there is done well, in particular a shot of a crucified priest with a crown of barbed wire wrapped around his head. The zombies are well-designed and vicious as hell, and the gore practically explodes off-screen. There is so much gritty blood-spilling in Redcon-1 that I felt a little sticky, and yes, I had showered that day. The filmmakers may not be adept at creating genuine compassion for their characters, but Cheung is an exceptional director when it comes to making high-octane battles seem grandiose and brutal. Redcon-1 perfectly encapsulates the tried and true saying, “war is hell”, stoking the flames a little more by throwing gun-toting zombies into the mix.
I might have forgiven the film’s flat nature if it had been shorter-a LOT shorter-but as it stands, Redcon-1 runs just a few minutes short of two hours, overstaying its welcome for a mindless action film that would play better at a crisp eighty minutes. Two hours is a big investment in a film like this, one that Redcon-1 doesn’t provide the funds for. This is pure, generic zombie action-horror fare, with little you haven’t already seen before, but, it’s well-made generic, zombie action-horror fare, and I don’t want to take that away from the filmmakers. Still, I would wait on this one for the inevitable streaming drop.
Redcon-1 goes to battle on VOD on May 7th from Dread.
By Matt Konopka