The premise of this film seems to be that after Shawn of the Dead, Zombieland and Warm Bodies, Zombies are inherently funny. Therefore, you don’t need to do any of the tongue-in-cheek sight gags that used to make the Tales from the Crypt series so enjoyable. And the humans are Cockneys – there’s nothing funnier than a Cockney just existing as they are, so that side of things is pretty well taken care of too. So, no need to write any jokes. And since it’s a comedy, which is all about laughter, there’s no real need to build a sense of tension, and no need to explore character. Yep – it was the best Zombie movie I saw that day, and to be fair, probably still better than Season 3 of The Walking Dead.
I write all the time about judging a film on its own merits, and there is an argument to be made here that this film meets that absolutely minimal requirement of doing what it says on the tin. But, personal bias means that I can’t quite let this go at that. The best Zombie films, arguably like the best non-Zombie films, do a little more than enumerate their basic premise. Zombie films, in particular, have been used as a commentary on mass society. Despite itself, let’s crack it open and read its entrails, since its brain is likely to be slim pickings indeed.
The Zombie Outbreak in this instance is due to construction opening a long-sealed tomb. The walking dead are waiting inside – forever means eternity. The construction project is bulldozing not only this ancient site, but a nearby Old Age home. The two groups of characters are the inhabitants of the home, and the hare-brained descendants of one resident. The elderly characters are caricatures, but generally tough and competent – when the walking dead burst into their afternoon sing-a-long, they seize improvised weapons and fend them off. In comparison, the male youths driving the junior half of the plot demonstrate notable incompetence at everything. Intended as comic postures, it’s nevertheless clear that this film is disappointed in the young men of today. The generation that fought the Nazis is still reliable, despite its age – they have what Dan Carlin described as Old School Toughness.
I’m not absolutely sure this film passes the Bechdel test, but if it fails, it does so in an interesting way. In the group of old folks, Alan Ford plays the clear leader. He has vigour, and organising skill. He rallies his comrades, and when one of them needs rescuing, he is the action hero Bruce Willis will be in another 30 years. The old women are feisty, too – but perhaps a little less competent. Amongst the group of youths, the two most competent characters are the women. They have an awareness of the situation, they keep control of themselves and their emotions, and they have useful skills. Men do occasionally do something right – but only after being shown how by a woman. If we want to see this as a side-by-side generational comparison, it’s obvious that the torch is being passed from the hyper-masculine ex-Nazi-fighting old men, to the smart and competent young women.
If we think about Romero’s slew of Zombie films, we can see a vein of concern about consumerism that connects all his films, and dominates Dawn of the Dead and Land of the Dead. What we’re seeing in a lot of the current wave of clones is a quite different concern – of gender equality in the face of the apocalypse. It’s a thread that connects Shawn of the Dead, where Shawn’s female alter-ego is infinitely more competent than he is, to the re-makes of both Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead, where the male protagonist of the original is replaced by a female protagonist, to Zombieland, where the men are constantly outwitted by the women. In cinematic expressions, it almost seems like Zombie films are a site of a feminist revolution, running counter to the idea prevalent in early Zombie outings that martial prowess was inherently male, and inherently the best survival strategy.
The big exception to this trend is The Walking Dead, whose politics are notably retrograde in almost every respect. Yet another reason to not bother with that turgid mess.
Cockneys vs Zombies is not a good film. It’s not even an especially interesting failure. But I think that it does gesture toward the notion that our culture isn’t finished using Zombies to explore ideas of cultural values. Zombies can still work, despite their ubiquity.