Zombie movies come in all shapes and sizes these days, but few have anything new to say about the genre since George Romero single handedly moved the Zombie film from fringe horror flick to state of the art social commentary. Moreover than any other area of horror, the zombie film has its severed fingers on the pulse of a civilizations plight. In the latest entry, Director Mark A. Rapp introduces us to a hybrid Zombie/Buddy film that uses the dilemma of two survivors as fodder for a deeper discussion of humanity after the apocalypse.
In Biophage, two men, Sgt. Cain (Ron Allen Marnich) and Dr. Bell (Aaron Jackson) are returning from a mission to the CDC in hopes of stopping a deadly viral outbreak that has infected most of the Earth’s population and turned them into mindless flesh eating monsters. Those humans that remain have either a natural immunity to the virus or are being treated with an experimental drug to halt the transformation effects. What remains of the world and the people who populate it are at the center of what Biophage is about.
This is not your common zombie film. Rapp uses the plague to dissect how human beings would cope with a total shutdown of societal rules and morals. How would we react if freed of all the trappings of propriety? Those of you looking for flesh munching, brain bashing, bullet-ridden bodies are in for a rude awakening. While the film features some pretty skillful zombie make up and a few brief feasting scenes the zombie is only a secondary character in the film, as our heroes must struggle not only with their inner demons but a host of rather unpleasant encounters with survivors, who have, for lack of a better term “gone ape s**t”.
Shot on the cheap, for a mere $10,000, Director Rapp makes the most out of his use of 16mm film to approximate a gritty black and white world where the many shades of gray echo the stark reality of the times. In addition to the solid direction, Rapp, along with Kirk Hazen provide an equally impressive and intensely haunting musical score. The measured simplicity of the piano often punctuates the bareness of the countryside with relative unease. It is rare that an independent film has such an effecting score and I tip my hat to the filmmakers for recognizing the importance of music in creating a foreboding atmosphere for their film.
In terms of performance, Marnich and Jackson each prove firm, if not exceptional, in their turns. Each seeming more at ease when tossing remarks off the cuff than when delivering more somber arguments. A case in point sees the characters arguing over the viewing of a video taped suicide, Jackson’s instance of avoiding the viewing is wooden, but his beat deliver of “do you like snuff films?” has exactly the right amount of human sarcasm needed at that very moment. Shooting a picture on film with a restricted budget severely limits most filmmakers in the number of takes that can be shot, simply due to monetary constraints. I suspect that case to be true with respect to Biophage, but it is important to note that I never felt pulled out the film by a poor line delivery.
Overall Biophage is an interesting addition to the world of Zombie cinema, and in keeping with the traditions of making a relevant statement within the film, I think that writer/director Mark A. Rapp has crafted a substantially appealing and entirely valuable work of art.