Director: Zach Lipovsky
Cast: Jesse Metclafe, Meghan Ory, Keegan Connor Tracy, Dennis Haysbert, Virginia Madsen, Aleks Paunovic, Carrie Genzel and Rob Riggle
Plot: When a Zombrex batch fails to work on a group of Infected, a city gets overrun by zombies, an amateur reporter (Metclafe) caught in the middle.
To create a movie adaptation of Dead Rising must have seemed like a good idea. While video game movies are notoriously bad, they seem like such a good movie opportunity. No matter how many bad ones are out there, if someone pitches turning a fantastic epic like Last of Us into a movie (Maisie Williams for Ellie, please!), we are all on board. However, there is always a flaw holding back the producers of these movies. Sometimes the reasons that a story in a video game works so well is because the story is tailored to work under those settings. Last of Us needs the slow-burning approach of a twenty hour video game to really hit home. The horror of Dead Space comes from playing it rather than watching it. And this is going to be the problem that lets Dead Rising down. While it incorporates trademarks of the game, it never quite captures the tone. Without that timer in the corner of the screen as you are playing, as well as the need to hunt Zombrex for every gaming day, the movie always feels like yet another zombie movie, rather than a Dead Rising movie.
Mind you, it isn’t a bad zombie movie. In fact, it is a rather good one. Filmed on an impressive camera and falling back on laughs sparingly rather than constantly, Dead Rising: Watchtower hits the thrills that we have been wanting from a good zombie movie from some time. It opens with an impressive sequence where Jesse Metclafe takes on two zombies without weapons. Rather than being treated as an action sequence, Lipovsky plays it as a tense time game. Metclafe has to somehow dispose of a zombie, with a stray gun before the creepy axe-wielding clown zombie gets to him. It’s not quite De Palma levels of dread, but it works well enough to keep those viewers, who decide to give it a five minute chance to impress before watching the whole thing, intrigued. The Dead Rising touches also help lift it above the norm just enough to find some fresh ground. My favourite thing about the gaming series has always been the fact that there is a vague cure. Zombrex is a suppressant that, if taken daily, can stop the bitten Infected from turning into full zombie. It creates some interesting themes, like a government that actually is vaguely competent, but also prone to becoming power-hungry when it realises that a massive portion of its citizens is heavily dependent on their cure. It also creates segregation between the bitten and the non-Infected, bringing up racism and the topic of ‘who is worth saving?’ The story kicks off when a batch of Zombrex doesn’t work and turns the patient into zombies. Accident or is someone playing a political game? The movie is smart enough to keep one of its main characters on the sidelines, interacting with the government and military, so we get a conspiracy subplot, as well as some good old-fashioned zombie killin’ fun.
And fun we get. In bounds. While I wouldn’t class this as a Zom-Com, which is growing into my least favourite genre (I haven’t seen a zombie movie take itself seriously in years), it does allow brief moments of levity. Dead Rising is meant to be the ‘fun’ zombie game after all. However, the fun seems to be focused on cool kills and badass moments, rather than in-jokes at the genre itself. I am OK with that. Cue several crafting weapons montages and whole battles, where the characters fight off hordes of zombies. I liked that, while the heroes were competent, they weren’t too good at what they did. The awesome weapons often lasted two kills, so the fun of the battles were figuring out how the lead could adapt to the fight, as it happened. The best moment of the movie partially benefits from following the worst. About half of the movie is spent developing the three lead characters in a warehouse and the movie begins to drag. However, when it decides to finally embrace the action, it does with a terrific one-shot fight scene, where Jesse Metclafe takes on several zombies with everything at his disposal (including a smart reference to the game using a traffic cone). It was a great, little moment and while the movie doesn’t really top that, or the tense intro scene, it never forgets to be good fun. There is also some good support from Rob Riggle as the lead character from the original game, sitting in a news desk and offering poor advice to everyone trapped with the zombies.
Zombie kill of the movie? An inventive use of a party bus.
Final Verdict: It rarely feels like a Dead Rising movie specifically, but if you want a good zombie movie, this avoids the usual mistakes of the genre.