Monday, August 5, 2013

State of Emergency - QC Review

Directed byTurner Clay
Starring:  Jay Hayden, Tori White, Scott Lily and Kathryn Todd Norman
Rated: R  
Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes  
Release Date: 2011

Low budget horror films are a gamble each time you decide to give one a try. The problem lies with how the odds are never stacked in your favor, with about 95% of low budget horror being total crap (and that's being generous), that leaves a scant 5% that has a chance of actually being any good, let alone great. But when you do finally find that diamond in the rough, all the pain, all the torture, it suddenly lifts away as you discover that one film that has beaten the odds.

Director Turner Clay's new entry into the realm of low budget horror, State of Emergency is part of that rare 5 percentile. Using unique remote locations, a handful of quality actors and an interesting twist on zombie horror, Clay is able to create an atmospheric horror landscape that gets under your skin by building an immense amount of tension through simple but extremely effective tricks and an understanding that what frightens us most is what we DON'T see.

The premise isn't anything out of the ordinary, as a matter of fact ordinary is the perfect term. An explosion occurs at a chemical plant and spreads a toxin in the air that begins transforming the local residents, of what appears to be a medium sized mid-western city, into feral zombies. We see very little of this however, as our solitary conduit into what is happening is Jim (Jay Hayden). Everything we witness in flashbacks and in the present is from his perspective, thus keeping things simple enough for budgetary concerns to rarely be an issue and also keeping the focus squarely on Jim's personal journey.

While Jim is our primary focal point, he eventually comes across some other survivors which helps give the film some much needed diversity, as does the change in scenery, which is mostly composed of farmland, a large stable and a very large tobacco plant. With this being a low budget film, Clay doesn't have the resources to populate his feature with mobs of the undead so he opted for a much more restrained and clever option, sparse and rarely scene zombies whose notable abscense is used to great effect.

By far the best thing State of Emergency has going for it are its zombies, which really aren't zombies at all. These creatures are more of a mixture of the 28 Days Later variety (people infected with rage) and traditional zombies (they still want to eat people), but never feel too much like one or the other. What really makes them standout from other zombies though is how they are sparingly spread around the environment just standing there waiting for something to catch their eye. Clay knows how to use this to his advantage and is able to create a palpable sense of terror whenever they are around, and better yet when they are not.

Even with all the successes of the film given its restraints, there are some small issues that need to be addressed. First and for most, while the film looks great with a clean and crisp picture, the audio fails to give any sort of oomph to anything happening on screen. Also, the lead performance by Hayden is strong enough to support the film but the other actors are borderline bad. Also, the characters, including Jim, are severely underdeveloped leaving us with very little to get invested in. Lastly, there are some inconsistencies with the zombies that are never explained, particularly involving one zombie that is able to talk. It is an effectively creepy scene, but feels out of place with the rest of the film.

Those very small concerns aside, this is a definite winner in the low budget horror category. If you are looking for a highly atmospheric and deliberately paced piece of zombie styled horror that is just different enough to stand out on its own, then State of Emergency has got your number. Filled with some interesting ideas, a strong lead performance and how it uses its low budget to create unique situations with its special breed of zombies, this is the type of film that makes wading through the pool of crappy horror movies out there worth it.





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