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Ulises [Celluloid 02.10.08] zombies movie review horror

[Editors note: We normally don't do reviews after a film has come out, but Ulises felt this one warranted it.]
Year: 2008
Director: Richard Chance
Writer: Richard Chance
Trailer: link
Purchase the DVD: Amazon ($12.99)
Review by: Ulises Silva (via VeryTragicalMirth)
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

What’s arguably the flagship of all zombie films—George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead—didn’t succeed because of million-dollar special effects, an all-star cast of premier actors, or an all-out, global marketing campaign. It succeeded because it was a new story, a good story, and because Romero knew exactly how to play to his strengths. He knew that, without the resources of a major studio, he’d have to find other ways of scaring the audience.

The Veil, an independent zombie film by John and Richard Chance, is reminiscent of Romero’s freshman efforts, for all the right reasons. A British zombie flick done on a shoestring budget and cast by a small group of actors (many of whom take several roles in the film), The Veil demonstrates that good storytelling, good atmosphere, and careful attention to the nuances of terror are enough to overcome the limits of a tiny budget.

The Veil is about a manmade virus that gets loose, goes airborne, and infects a small town, turning everyone into (you guessed it) zombies. Almost immediately, we’re thrown into the action with Beta group, a four-member SAS troop sent in to reconnoiter the town and find survivors. The only thing Beta group finds are (you guessed it) zombies. So they’re forced into a desperate fight for survival, skirting along the dark, infested corners of the little town, losing one of their members before finding refuge in a small house. That’s your setup. Three men—Green, Anderson, and Weston—holed up in a house, low on supplies, out of contact from the rest of their SAS comrades and their HQ, and surrounded by moaning, hungry zombies. To make matters worse, it seems one of the men isn’t being entirely honest about why he’s on the mission.

You probably know the plot from here on out. Beta group has to find a way to break the zombie siege, return to base, and report, all while managing this tricky little thing called survival. And, in true Romero fashion, the group has to contend with their own internal friction, including having to quarantine one of their members who appears to have been bitten. A couple of plot twists later, we’re reminded of the age-old adage of zombie films—that the greatest enemies aren’t the zombies, but ourselves.

In a market already bloated with (mostly bad) mainstream and indie zombie films, The Veil shines through as a model of good zombie storytelling despite its non-existent budget. The feel of The Veil is pure Night of the Living Dead, with erratic, scared camera shots peering through boarded-up windows and crevices, catching eerie, ominous glimpses of zombies emerging from the pitch-black of night. The atmosphere of desperate survival is effectively chilling; Green, Anderson, and Weston try to barricade the house, but zombies manage to break through every now and then, robbing them of any peace of mind. The mood and lighting is always dark. It doesn’t matter if Beta team is running through the nighttime, shadow-filled streets of the infested town, or playing cards inside the well-lit house; there’s always a sense that danger is lurking around every corner, watching our protagonists and closing in on them. It helps, as well, that the film is shot almost entirely in black and white, which only seems to bolster its creepiness factor.

But The Veil is also effective as a movie because it not only understands and follows the Romero storytelling model, but because it adds its own distinctive twists to them. Our heroes, for example, go through virtually the entire film wearing gas masks, making them both indistinguishable and seemingly inhuman. They appear, at first, no different than the zombie hordes surrounding them, and it’s only as the film progresses that we realize why this is the case. It’s hard to make out the characters, admittedly, because we really don’t see their faces until nearly the end of the film, but their eventual actions make them distinguishable enough.

The Veil’s most effective contribution to the zombie canon, however, has to be its use of sound. Anyone who’s read Max Brooks’ works (The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z) will remember Brooks’ take on one of the zombies’ most effective weapons: their moaning. That, within cramped, trapped confines, the moaning of the surrounding zombies becomes psychologically crippling. The Veil is the first film I’ve seen that puts this idea to work. The zombie moaning audio at times literally surrounds us alongside Beta team, trapping us in that house with them. In one scene, Anderson and Weston are sitting in the staircase, struggling to block out the deafening din of infernal moaning, before one of them cracks and screams for the zombies to shut up (which, strangely enough, they’re not compelled to do). The Veil probably has the most effective use of zombie moaning since Bob Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, where zombie moans were used to create a chilling, cacophonous symphony during the film’s big zombie awakening scene.

But The Veil goes beyond putting Brooks’ theory to work. Without the benefits of a full special effects budget, the film has to find cheaper ways of scaring us. And it does, by using sound. In a house that’s both dark and cramped, every little scratch, every tap against the door, every bump in the dark has added significance and menace. The audio is masterful in highlighting the dread of hearing things where we shouldn’t be hearing them. And the audio’s highlight has to be a sequence halfway through the film when one of the men shoots out a light bulb, plunging the room into pitch-black darkness. From within this darkness, all we hear are the men’s heavy, panicked breathing…and the indistinct shuffling of zombies approaching from somewhere. It’s a chilling sequence that’s aided by an opportune thunderstorm, where brief flashes of lightning give us split-second shots of zombies that are only a foot or two away.

While I’m discussing the audio, I should briefly mention the soundtrack. While at times a bit cheesy, for the most part, the soundtrack is stellar, elevating the brooding, ominous quality of the black and white images playing before our eyes. More than once, the combination of music and imagery reminded me of the sequence in 28 Days Later, when Cillian Murphy is walking the dead streets of London to the sound of Godspeed, You Black Emperor. That’s to say, the music complemented the visuals perfectly, creating an almost surreal atmosphere that only heightened the characters’ isolation.

The film, like anything else, is not perfect. My biggest concern is that it is too long. Clocking in at 150 minutes, The Veil is unusually long for a film of this genre, and I’m not sure it warrants it. Many of the sequences are too drawn-out, and there are, perhaps, a bit too many zombie-shooting sequences. There were times in which I found myself thinking, “Okay, I get it, they’re shooting zombies, let’s move on already.” By drawing so many of its sequences out into back-and-forth shots of hero-with-gun and approaching zombie (back to hero, back to zombie, back to hero still standing there, back to zombie, back to hero, back to zombie, you get the idea), the horror effect is diluted somewhat. I think this film could have been twice as effective if it had cut down on some of these redundant shots.

Still, the movie works, for all the right reasons. You have to admire the tenacity of the Chance brothers and their tiny crew in producing a film that, while bereft of any real budget, is still so effective as a zombie survival narrative. The Veil stands as a shining example of how a film can be good without the benefit of a bloated budget or million-dollar special effects. By playing to its strengths, and by scaring us in ways it knows it can scare us without having to do much, The Veil succeeds where countless of its multi-million dollar and fellow indie counterparts have fallen flat on their faces.

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Carmie (13 years ago) Reply

I just received this DVD today, and your review only makes me more excited to see it.


Ryan Voice (13 years ago) Reply

the film is great and this sentance completly sums it up,:

"The Veil succeeds where countless of its multi-million dollar and fellow indie counterparts have fallen flat on their faces"

Well done John and Richard!

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