I was first introduced to director Robert Thompson and his company Fresh Slate Pictures exactly a year ago when I reviewed his freshman directorial effort, Inferno. Thompson’s sophomore effort is an epic zombie film entitled Aftermath.
Aftermath is about a deadly virus that has been weaponized by a secret government agency and accidentally loosed on the U.S. population, turning the majority of citizens into flesh-eating ghouls. In the aftermath of this contagion, only a few pockets of people survive, eventually finding one another. These different people from many walks of life must not only resist zombie attacks but also must resist the implosion of their own small group as myriad personalities clash.
First we have the nefarious trio of government agents, all dressed in black. They are quite possibly the strangest lot I’ve seen on film. One is covered with a black mask and hood and wrapped in chains–apparently he’s the muscle. Then we have the scientist who, at least in the beginning, is trying to do research for the good of mankind, not its annihilation. We are also introduced to the African-American streetfighter who, due to a stroke of good luck, may hold the key humanity’s salvation. You see, he is HIV-positive, but he’s also been bitten by a zombie. As luck would have it, the zombie virus and the HIV virus not only counteract each other, but actually cause this character to heal and become stronger. Problem is, he’s not interested in saving humanity, so he keeps his secret mostly to himself. There is also a father figure taking care of a young pregnant girl as well as an escaped murderer and his lover who just happens to be his psychiatrist. The two made a break just as the zombie apocalypse was at its height and the guards were worried about other things. Together, this group of misfits must somehow figure out how to beat the zombies without killing each other in the process.
There are some very good points about Aftermath. First is the cinematography. As he did in Inferno, Thompson keeps things interesting with the use of inventive camera angles. The musical score is also strong and suits the film quite well. Technically the film looks and sounds good with the exception of occasional patches of dialogue which are sometimes hard to hear. But the real problem with the film is the plot and pacing.
Instead of creating a film filled with zombies and punctuated with occasional scenes of dialogue, Thompson has created the opposite: a dialogue-heavy zombie movie punctuated with occasional zombie attacks. It seems Thompson is trying to create a character-driven zombie film. In and of itself, this isn’t a terrible thing. But if one sets out to create a character-driven film of any type, at least some of the characters have to by sympathetic in order for the audience to identify and root for that character. In this case, the only true sympathetic characters–that of the father figure and pregnant girl–are killed off early, leaving us with a group of distasteful characters. The secret government agents are difficult to identify with because they only occasionally show up to level vague threats at the doctor and kill his wife to force him to do their bidding. The doctor himself states early on that he only wants to help people, but he’s completely nonplussed when he learns of his wife’s demise and is quite busy trying to force himself on his young test subjects. He’s bossy, mean-spirited, and decidedly unsympathetic. The streetfighter is difficult to like because he knows he may hold the cure in his bloodstream but shows a total narcissism by keeping the possible cure a secret. The escaped killer is obnoxious and abusive to anyone within earshot, and his psychiatrist girlfriend drops everything to do his bidding. There’s absolutely no one to root for here. If any of these characters had showed a tendency to change for the positive the audience would at least have someone to identify with, but throughout the entire movie, each character’s arc never really changes.
But never fear, zombie fans, because where there’s zombies, there’s blood. While Aftermath is actually light on the red stuff, it does pick up near the end, with a few head shots and CGI effects. It’s not overly gory and there’s no actual gut-munching, but there is some blood on display here.
So, while there are some basic flaws in the film, Thompson at least attempts something other than the average violence-for-the-sake-of-violence zombie film. It’s not a perfect film, but those zombie fans who just can’t get enough of the gory ghouls and those fans who like a dose of characterization with their horror might give this one a try. For more information about Aftermath and Fresh Slate Pictures, go to http://www.freshslatepictures.com.