George A. Romero’s shadow still looms large over the zombie genre.
Romero deftly blended gore, shocks and satire throughout his “Dead” series, never more effectively than with “Dawn of the Dead” (1978). Consumerism never saw that coming.
Now, Canadian shocker “Brain Freeze” carries on that ghoulish tradition. Yes, the zom-com slaps around the usual suspects — the chasm between the Haves and Have Nots, for example.
The film, debuting this month at the virtual Mile High Horror Film Festival, has other surprises, though, the kind you rarely see in satirical fare.
This French Canadian import follows a survivalist trying to connect with his sweet, but distant daughter. Dan (Roy Dupuis) is a security guard by day and a conspiracy theorist when his schedule permits.
That thinking comes in handy when a plot to keep grass golf-ready all year ’round goes awry. The lawn chemicals seep into the local drinking water, turning residents into green-gummed zombies.
Dan teams with a tech-addled teen named Andre (Iani Bédard) and his infant sister to stay alive. Meanwhile, the authorities plot how to squelch the outbreak without much thought for possible survivors.
Director/co-writer Julien Knafo follows in Romero’s footsteps, showing how the elites look down on everyone else. Ho hum. Yet “Brain Freeze” isn’t as snarky as expected. The humor flows easily, but it’s neither nasty nor excessive.
The story also takes its time introducing the key characters, showing them in achingly human moments. Yes, you’ll root for their survival, not cheer on their destruction.
Most filmmakers would depict Dan as a rube for thinking the end was near-ish. He’s hapless, too, struggling to make a rudimentary fire with sticks and straw, That running gag gets deployed with a master’s touch.
Yet he’s a big-hearted lug whose love for his daughter powers the film’s second half.
“Brain Freeze” doesn’t skimp on the scary bits, but it connects far better as satire. That tightrope walk intensifies when Andre’s baby sis is in harm’s way. Knafo navigates that potential “ick” factor, delivering dark laughs and more than a few surprises.
It’s a shame the film’s zesty first act gives way to a smart, but meandering story. Zombie movies thrive on tension, but the characters treat the undead like a nuisance at times. If they can’t work up a sweat about the situation, neither can we.
Far more interesting is the radio show host narrating the town’s descent. He’s alternately smart and shocking, and just when we think we know him he throws us a knee-buckling curve.
Best of all?
“Brain Freeze” plugs into our current age, showing both corporations and politicians unable to solve problems large and small. That’s something Romero would cheer if he were still alive today. Chances are, modern audiences will do just that.
HiT or Miss: “Brain Freeze” can’t maintain the giddy joy of its first act, but it’s a sly satire that taps into our rage against the elites.