Sunday, 19 September 2010

Review : The Horde

Some of the most extreme horror movies being made today are coming out of France. These violent, angry pictures such as Martyrs (2008) and À L'Intérieur (2006), Irreversible (2002) and Sheitan (2006) all have a sense of rage mostly absent from recent American horror. In his documentary The American Nightmare (2000), filmmaker Adam Simon interviews key American horror directors of the 60s and 70s on the socio-political context of their wave of horror movies. Most spoke of a time of civil unrest and insecurity in which such angry and violently rebellious pictures were a natural response to the climate of chaos surrounding them. Wes Craven describes Last House On The Left (1972) as a film that was made by a man who hated himself and his country. He later goes on to quote Allen Ginsberg's Howl :

"All this rage gotta go somewhere..."

The modern zombie movie (starting with Romero) has commonly employed social commentary on everything from consumerism to
Vietnam, and perhaps The Horde is no exception. If, as Craven says, this type of filmmaking has to come from somewhere, what type of commentary does this trend in ultra-violent horror films provide on the state of Sarkozy's France? Is France
here the crumbling tenement? Disintegrating amidst the social, cultural and racial tensions within, but with hungry hordes still breaking down the gates to get in?

The Horde is a relentlessly grim and violent movie. It follows a group of cops  into that zombie movie stalwart the abandoned tenement building (see [Rec], 2007 and Romero's opening to Dawn Of The Dead, 1978), to take revenge on a bunch of drug dealing gangsters for the murder of one of their team. The bad guys pre-empt their surprise attack though, and ruthlessly execute one of them, taking the rest prisoner. Soon after, and with no explanation, the
skyline is ablaze and they're attacked by a horde of zombies. Just like in Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) cops and bad guys have to form an uncomfortable alliance to fight off the invading horde.

Neither cops nor bad guys have redeeming features here, allegiances within the group are constantly shifting and punishment is dealt equally to all points of the moral compass proving that, in one case at least, the only benefit to heroism or a selfless act is a stylishly extended death scene at the hands of a horde of hundreds.

It's a well made film. The special effects make up work is superb and the murky greens and browns brought out in the grading of the digital photography add a suitably miserabilist look that's in keeping with the relentlessly depressing tone. The sound design is excellent and the minimal use of underscoring keeps the tension levels up.

There are plenty of good jumps too, these zombies are of the 'new and improved' variety, the rage filled vessels of hate as seen in Zack Snyder's Dawn of The Dead (2004) and Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002). Every punch is felt when these guys fight, and the visceral ferocity in their attacks is captured in a couple of great handheld fight sequences. There's a real kineticism to the handheld photography here in general, offering an almost documentarian POV that whilst never acknowledged, nervously bobs and weaves through the action like a boxer waiting to throw a punch. I'm still inclined to agree with Simon Pegg though, "death's supposed to be an impediment, not an energy drink" and prefer my zombies of the Jacques Tourneur variety.

Ultimately, The Horde is an easy film to admire but a hard film to like. Taking Romero's idea from Night Of The Living Dead (1968) that even when the dead walk the earth we'll still be fighting and killing one another, it's finally nihilistic portrait of social breakdown leaves no room for redemption or forgiveness and holds little regard for hope.

The Horde (La Horde) - 2009 - France - 90 mins - Dir : Yannick Dahan, Benjamin Rocher

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