Friends Richard (Brandon Piskorik), Mike (Aaron Isaac Vasquez) and Jason (James Garrigan) are heading out on a fishing trip. Out in the middle of nowhere, they find themselves running low on gas. While Richard stays behind at the seemingly deserted convenience store they’ve come across, due to some stomach distress, Mike and Jason head down the road in hopes of finding a gas station so they can re-fuel, then come back and pick up Richard (hopefully finished in the bathroom). Unfortunately, Mike and Jason run out of gas.
While walking back to the convenience store, Mike and Jason are startled by a man running from something, who warns them to run. As they run and hide, they see what it is that the man was freaking out over, as a small horde of zombies attack a woman in the street. Mike and Jason escape back to the convenience store, where a distraught Richard, having gone through quite an ordeal in their absence, commits suicide in front of their eyes.
So the two set out again, hoping to find gas and get back to their car. Eventually they find a town, and the zombies find them, but not before they join up with fellow armed survivors (who accidentally wound Jason) in a nearby house, and escape there. Now Mike and Jason, and survivors Clint (Matt Skinner) and Stacy (Hannah Morgan), try to decide what their next move is, as the zombies continue haunting the surrounding area. From there it becomes a matter of staying at the house and hunkering down, or trying to find gas and move. Mike opts to stick with the original plan, Jason opts to stay, and the two separate. Who made the right decision? You’ll have to watch the movie; I’ve said too much already.
There’s a charm to the rough and ragged nature of Aaron Isaac Vasquez’s feature film Made Out Alive. Then again, with so many zombie films out there, and not just the mainstream fare (I’ve seen quite a few indie productions just this year), finding a new spin on the genre is challenging and rare, to say the least.
In this case, the film just gives us a zombie apocalypse with little flash or spectacle. The matter-of-fact nature of the sudden onset of zombies adds a bit of energy and strength in its immediacy. That, coupled with a visual style that is ugly, lo-fi altered for a sometime sepia, sometimes faded look, makes the overall experience that much more visceral. The immediacy of the grit and grime can be a welcome distraction from a narrative that is wrapped up in zombie genre commonalities.
There’s the bickering between survivors, the loss of innocence, the killing of loved ones after they’ve been bitten, the sudden zombie attacks, the air of overall hopelessness… it’s all there, almost paint-by-the-numbers as far as a zombie story goes. Where it begins to fall apart, however, is that it doesn’t do anything to elevate those elements in a way to make them more interesting than just expected. At a certain point, you should care somewhat about the people on screen. I never did.
I’ll admit, of all the low budget, technical elements that could’ve contributed to the film stumbling, it is the audio that did the most damage. Maybe my issues with the characters came from the fact that, in many instances, I had trouble understanding their dialogue (and I did quite a bit of rewinding and volume increasing). Of course, often I wasn’t missing, or misunderstanding, much in the way that would make the narrative more interesting, but for a film that revels in its limitations, this was one area where its lo-fi charm became a hindrance.
The edit sometimes trips up the pacing too. One sequence, when Mike is rustling through every room in the house he and Jason have escaped to, plays out in real time. While I get the effect the film was going for, it instead got really boring, really fast, and I found myself wishing the house was a smaller one, with fewer rooms. Other times the edit was effectively strong and frenetic, such as in the opening when you see the fate of the family that occupied the survivor house before Clint, Stacy and the others got there.
And that opening is one example of where the film’s visceral, low budget take on the zombie genre really excels. In its best moments, the film seemingly places you in danger with the characters, and can get your heart rate racing a little bit. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t sustain through the whole production. A noble attempt, and it has enough strong points to be worth a look if you’re a zombie genre aficionado, but overall it’s the limitations in the narrative, more so than the technical side and budget, that do the most damage.
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