Tuesday, March 29, 2016

DEAD RUSH (Review)

DEAD RUSH (2016)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Zach Ramelan

Written by Gavin Michael Booth, Raven Cousens, Zachary Ramelan

Starring: Michael Moote, Raven Cousens, Charlie Hamilton, Caleigh Le Grand, Rich Piatkowski, Austin Duffy
The zombie apocalypse gets up close and very personal this week at the Canadian Film Fest with the World Premiere of Zach Ramelan's zombie action-drama DEAD RUSH (9:30pm, Mar 31)

Based on the short film of the same name, DEAD RUSH presents one man's desperate fight and flight for survival during a zombie apocalypse, told entirely through the protagonist's first person perspective. Theoretically, this should put the audience in an intimate and action-packed front row seat for the end of the world. At least, that was the case in Ramelan's excellent and adrenaline-pumping short film (currently collected in the zombie anthology film Zombieworld). Unfortunately, I am very sad to report, the feature-length treatment of Dead Rush is dreadfully dull and stunted in scope. It squanders its POV gimmick by bogging down the story in sad melodrama instead of action.

In Dead Rush, David (David Michael Moote) finds his life turned upside down when an unknown illness ignites a full-blown zombie epidemic. People start to go crazy, their faces get fucked up, and they attack people. David races to save his pregnant wife (Raven Cousens) and along the way ends up with a band of survivors (including the rough and tumble Caleigh Le Grand) searching for a young girl rumored to be immune to the deadly infection. It's a very basic premise full of worn out stock characters. Regrettably, the POV gimmick doesn't add much novelty either.
Caleigh Le Grand is quite the handful in Dead Rush
Moote, Cousens, and Le Grand all turn in good, heart-felt performances, but they feel like they belong in a different movie with a structure more accommodating to drama. As it stands, the film's lean running time (Dead Rush only barely clocks in at 80 minutes) leaves little time to establish meaningful character relationships. At the same time, the limiting POV nature of the film's delivery adds an unnecessary and ultimately damaging level of visual melodrama. Since we largely only see through David's eyes, the only way he can visually emote his pain and anger is through his hands (punching a row of metal lockers, for example, or holding up sad pictures of his loved ones) or by watching himself in his phone as he records weepy video messages to his neglected father. The rest of the time, David is a totally ineffectual character, which makes him a terrible POV to get stuck with. Things just happen to him and he blunders into situations, swinging his fists, waving around an ax, and somehow managing to get off a lot of head shots with a pistol. I don't think (aside from one really well-acted moment of deadly mercy) that David even makes any choices that influence the plot. Only occasionally does he fight zombies, and when he does the action is stunted, cliche, and visually uninspired. Very bad CGI blood doesn't help matters.

The zombies themselves are also very weak and sorely lacking in menace. Dead Rush does a very poor job of establishing the zombie threat or the plausibility of its apocalyptic scenario. We see the very early stages of a zombie attack and then are just expected to take the character's words for it that things outside the safe house are really bad. We never see it; over the course of a week society just seems to wither and crumble off screen. Are the zombies cannibals or do they just knock people to the ground and beat them up? There's virtually no gore to point one way or the other. What kind of threat are the zombies?  Sometimes they run. Sometimes they shamble. Some seem to grab at you; others you can just walk around. Is the infection only spread through contact, because some people just seem to get sick out of the air? Sometimes the infected have great makeup (for the few seconds and frames you can see them) but most of the time they are just grimy and sloppy background actors. They are either painfully laconic or shamefully hammy. Mix all these elements together and Dead Rush definitely does not deliver on the potential of its premise or its proof-of-concept short film origins.

Axe B(lo)ody Spray
The only standout element of Dead Rush is its cinematography and visual direction. When the zombies aren't around, cinematographer Karl Janisse and director Ramelan are committed to telling a dramatic visual story about love and loss during an apocalyptic crisis. There's real beauty to be found in Dead Rush and some genuinely inventive and artful uses of the first person perspective. Janisse's lens, at times, is a window into some gorgeous imagery. It feels like Dead Rush truly wanted to be an artsy zombie drama. Why shoot a drama like a first person video game then? I have no idea, especially when the POV action is so underwhelming.

Dead Rush had a lot of potential to exploit its first-person POV gimmick, but it ends up heading in completely the wrong direction by getting tangled in a mess of clunky exposition, throw-away filler, and melodramatics while simultaneously failing to deliver the action and visual momentum vital to justifying the film's first-person perspective. I'm still a big fan of Ramelan's work, and I know he's a talented young filmmaker with a lot to offer. Dead Rush, though, just doesn't work.

After all, if you take something called Dead Rush and you suck out the "rush" (the urgency, the action, the pacing, and the thrills), what are you left with?

Dead Rush makes its World Premiere debut on Thursday, March 31 as part of the Canadian Film Fest at the Royal Cinema in Toronto, ON. For tickets and full schedule information, visit www.canfilmfest.ca

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