“They’re not what you think they are. They’re faster. They’re organized.”
Ever since 1968 and the release of George Romero’s classic “Night of the Living Dead,” the popularity of the Zombie genre has been growing. Prior, there had been films with zombies in them but they were primarily about Haitian voodoo. Romero built the modern tropes, making them flesh eaters who could infect others with their bite and who could only be killed through the head. He set his story in the US at the height of the Civil Rights movement thus adding social and political awareness. The undead stand for irrational and vile pack mentality and conventionality. In the sequel, “Dawn Of The Dead” (1978), which was remade in 2004 by Zack Snyder, zombies take over a shopping mall with a still thriving thirst to consume even after they’ve died. In whatever new incarnation in film and TV, they’re a symbol of a total breakdown of civilization as we know it. Our driving fear when watching these films is the thought of us becoming like them, of being consumed and losing our individuality. During the pandemic, the feeling of uncertainty was at an all time global high. Just like in Romero’s film and its descendants, we witnessed systems breaking, and a world brought to its knees. In the genre, we see the few remaining individuals start rebuilding their own systems of law and justice, struggling to find food and shelter – of course while fighting not to become the next victims. There’s comfort seeing individuals on screen surviving through similarly upending scenarios, and it’s cathartic.
A year doesn’t go by without a few new entries to the genre; many qualify as terrific and thoughtful entertainment, and there have been quite a lot! From Danny Boyle’s exceptional “28 Days Later” (2002), to Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) and ”Zombieland” (2009) with their mischievous mixture of comedy and horror, to the epic and grand “World War Z” (2013) and to the still going strong TV series “The Walking Dead.” Recently, Korean director Yeon Sang-ho made “Train to Busan” (2016) into a first-class entry filled with innovations that once again refreshed some of the rules with lots of verve while retaining the required social and political awareness that is prevalent in most good examples.
In Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” (2021), there’s plenty of subtext. A wall is erected around the perimeters of the citadel. There’s a refugee camp adjacent and there are draconian laws bandied about in which the rights of citizens are being stripped away. The notion that people are literally feeding on other human beings and being divested of their humanity is there, as well as lots of greed and excess. There are even timely temperature checks. But this time around we’re in Vegas, and this is where the movie becomes propulsive entertainment and cinematic. What Snyder does is use the zombie holocaust as the background obstacle for the main characters, while at the forefront the movie layers a money heist that plays like “Oceans 11.” A rich businessman, played by Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada, offers a team of mercenaries a sizable fortune if they can retrieve $200 million from a casino vault. The caveat of course is that they have to enter a walled-in zone full of the undead. There are other cinematic references being blended into the plot. There’s a bit of “The Magnificent 7” in the way the main character, Scott Ward (a mercenary zombie killer) has to recruit his team for the mission. An obvious “Escape from New York” vibe is there as they have to retrieve the money from a blocked off territory. Other references include “Planet of the Apes,” “Aliens,” and “The Thing” to name a few. It is a blast to see the influences that the film has no qualms in wearing on its sleeve. It’s a filmmaker relishing in the fun that we’ve had watching other successful and over-the-top action films.
Snyder, who has made a name for himself making high octane and very stylized films which all include brawny and attractive men in the lead (“300,” “Man of Steel”), worked as his own Director of Photography, shooting in natural available light with a soft organic look, in stark contrast with the harsh cataclysmic landscape. The opening sequence on a highway outside Sin City where a convoy of army men are transporting dangerous cargo is a thing of beauty. It is followed by heartbeat-raising opening credits, in which we get a condensed history of what’s happened prior and are introduced to the main characters. Each vignette is like a movie unto itself, and pardon the use of the word, but it’s delicious. The sight of zombie chorus girls going after a lecherous businessman to the tune of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” is priceless. Snyder also evolves the genre and the zombie lore. There is now a hierarchy and different types of zombies. They think and plan. There’s even a tiger (who of course used to belong to Siegfried and Roy!).
Frank Peters: “It’s a goddamn zombie tiger. That’s crossing the line!”
Available to stream on Netflix
Story by Zack Snyder
Screenplay by Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo,
Dave Bautista on “Army of the Dead”
“When I read the script, I read it as a redemption story. I read the part of the character of Scott and what his intent and what his motivation was, and everything else was like a backdrop to me. That was what I focused on, and that’s what made me take this film. Because I wasn’t looking for the action role. It just wasn’t something I was interested in. People know I can do action. I feel like I’ve proven myself in that aspect. But I needed to prove myself in other avenues, because I need to get people to start looking at me differently. I want to be a respected actor where people will be comfortable and confident in hiring me for any part. I want to be that guy. I like being a character actor. So anyway, that’s how I read it and that’s what I was focused on. But at the same time, I didn’t look past the action, because the action sequences were not only great, but I felt like there were more opportunities for me, even there, to kind of showcase stuff that I could do as an action guy.
I’ve done action films, but I haven’t completely gotten a chance to really showcase the action that I’m capable of, and a lot of it I can actually do myself. I’m never embarrassed to admit that I have a very good stunt man and I rely on him to do dangerous stunts. But a lot of the fight choreography, I like to do by myself. It doesn’t excite me, but I know it’s me, I know they can use the shots and they don’t have to CGI my face onto somebody else’s body, or shoot the back of my stunt double’s head. I like being able to do stuff like that, and it connects people more if they can see that it’s me doing it. They believe, they buy into it more and become more invested. But the drama, that’s my challenge. That’s what I’m passionate about. Because that’s the stuff that is still hard for me to figure out as an actor who’s kind of learning on the job. It’s always going to be the dramatic stuff that excites me.” (slashfilm.com)
About Screenwriter Joby Harold
Joby Harold has been tapped to write the upcoming “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series at Disney Plus… and was one of two writers, alongside James Vanderbilt, who was selected to develop a new take on the “Transformers” franchise for Paramount. To date, Harold has served as an executive producer on the critically-acclaimed WGN America drama series “Underground” and the recent Netflix series “Spinning Out.” It was announced back in October that Harold and his Safehouse Pictures banner had signed a first look deal with Legendary Television. (variety.com)
About Screenwriter Shay Hatten
Born in Oakland, Calif., and raised in Idaho, his emergence as one of the hottest young writers in Hollywood seems like no big deal for the 25-year-old screenwriter. “It just kind of worked out,” he says blithely from his home in Los Angeles. “I was doing some writing on the side before I started writing full time, so it was a fortuitously smooth transition — one of those right-place, right-time situations.” Things have indeed been working out unusually well for Hatten. He landed his first feature, this year’s “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum,” because he wrote an action script on spec called “Ballerina,” inspired by the trailer for “John Wick: Chapter 2.” He worked closely on “Parabellum” with director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves, and now “Ballerina” is being developed as its own “Wick” spinoff. “It was a weird, fortuitous thing. I wrote it to be its own movie, inspired by ‘John Wick,’ and now we’re retrofitting it back into the ‘John Wick’ world,” he says. Hatten’s light touch with comic action — a tricky balance he learned, he says, from legendary screenwriter Shane Black — has led to his penning “Army of the Dead,”…But his interests are wide-ranging, and he’s also written scripts for a hard-R action-fantasy pic he says is “like ‘John Wick’ with a unicorn in the center of it,” and a biopic of Stephen King that landed him representation with CAA in the first place. “I want to play in every genre. I don’t want to do the same thing too many times in a row. I want to push the envelope,” he says. (variety.com)
About Production Designer Julie Berghoff
In 2017, Julie won the Emmy and the Art Directors Guild award for “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She was also nominated for excellence in production design on “Electric Dreams” based on the short stories of Phillip K. Dick. Julie began her career in 2002 building special effects models for various companies in Chicago and Los Angeles. That soon led to Art direction and designing the stop motion animation show, “The PJ’s,” starring Eddie Murphy. Her first feature film was “Saw,” directed by James Wan which earned over 103M. She also collaborated with JAMES WAN on 4 other films including The Conjuring 1 & 2. In 2005, she segued into comedy, designing the Oscar and Golden Globe Nominated Film, “The Kids are All Right” and in 2015 Emmy Winner, “Olive Kitteridge” both directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Julie has collaborated with many commercial directors such as “Ringan Ledwidge,” “David Lachapelle,” and “Jared Hess.” And she recently worked with Patty Jenkins on “I am the Night,” a true story based on the life of Fauna Hodel set in 1965 LA and “Lisa Cholodenko” and “Susanna Green” on a true crime story, “Unbelievable” for Netflix. (julieberghoff.us) Berghoff’s most recent projects include “Army of the Dead” and “The Old Man.”
About Composer Tom Holkenborg
Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, is a Grammy nominated and multi platinum producer, musician, and composer whose versatility puts him on the cutting edge of contemporary music, as well at the vanguard of exciting new film composers. His film scoring credits include “Mad Max Fury Road,” “Deadpool,” “Black Mass,” “Alita: Battle Angel,” “Divergent,” “Brimstone,” “The Dark Tower” and the forthcoming “Terminator: Dark Fate.” Holkenborg has over 120 scoring credits in film, video-game and television music and has worked with directors including Robert Rodriguez, George Miller, Tim Miller and James Cameron. His movies have grossed over $2 billion at the box office. The foundation for Tom’s career started in his native Holland where he created multiple film scores, and undertook mentorships with celebrated composers Harry Gregson Williams (on “Domino” and “Kingdom of Heaven”) and Klaus Badelt (on “Catwoman”). But things really started to fall into place when Tom started collaborating with Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer. Their partnership lasted several years, and most recently included 2016’s blockbuster “Batman vs Superman,” which marked the seventh scoring collaboration between Holkenborg and Zimmer. Holkenborg worked with Zimmer on “The Amazing Spider Man 2” (2014), “Man of Steel” (2013), “Dark Knight Rises” (2012), “Madagascar 3” (2012), “Megamind” (2010), and “Inception” (2010). Tom is able to draw on his extensive knowledge of classical forms and structures while keeping one finger planted firmly on the pulse of popular music. When this eclectic background is paired with his skill as a multi-instrumentalist (he plays keyboards, guitar, drums, violin, and bass and describes himself as a ‘full contact composer’) and a mastery of studio technology, a portrait emerges of an artist for whom anything is possible.
Holkenborg’s music career began in 1993 when he started the industrial rock band Nerv and was also producing hardcore and metal bands like Sepultura and Fear Factory. Drawn by electronic breakbeats he started Junkie XL in 1997 debuting with the album Saturday Teenage Kick. Holkenborg went on to produce 5 more albums under the moniker while playing headline shows all over the world. In 2002 the producer remixer scored a number 1 hit in 24 countries with his rework of “A Little Less Conversation”. Following the success Holkenborg collaborated with celebrated artists like Dave Gahan, Robert Smith, Chuck D, and remixed artists such as Coldplay, Depeche Mode, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and many more. In addition Holkenborg created the music for video games like FIFA, Need For Speed, The Sims, and SSX and commercials for global campaigns like Nike, Heineken, Adidas, Cadillac and VISA. Throughout his career, education and mentorship have been key themes for Tom. He created a Bachelor Program at the renowned ArtEZ Conservatorium, in his home town of Enschede, for music composition, from which more than 200 students have graduated, and continued his commitment to education on digital platforms, producing the online tutorial series, Studio Time. With a solid command of the craftsmanship of film scoring, the understanding of the history, but always with an eye on the future. The future for Junkie XL in Hollywood looks bright. (kraft-engel.com)
About Writer, Cinematographer and Director Zack Snyder
Powerhouse filmmaker Zack Snyder quickly rose to become one of Hollywood’s leading feature directors after solidifying himself as one of the most in-demand commercial and music video directors with Believe. His attention to detail and his dedication to bringing a fine art aesthetic to filmmaking have made Zack a master of his craft. Zack’s first feature “Dawn of the Dead” received critical acclaim and earned him a nomination for the prestigious Camera d’Or prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. His follow-up feature “300” was a breakout success, taking the all-time record for any film opening in March. Zack has since gone on to direct a series of other major blockbuster successes, such as “Watchmen,” “Man of Steel” and “Justice League.” There’s no question that Zack’s ad work is as evocative as his films —be it an epic car spot for Land Rover in Tunisia, capturing an emotional character piece with Robert DeNiro, or helming a humorous Budweiser spot in America’s heartland, Zack’s work is the definition of powerful visual storytelling. His advertising work has garnered numerous awards including two Clios, and a Cannes Gold Lion. (believemedia.com)