Bong of the living Dead (2017)
Film review #541
Director: Max Groah
SYNOPSIS: a group of friends obsessed with zombies and getting high find their fantasies have come true and the zombie apocalypse is here. Unfortunately, their fantasy about fighting in the zombie apocalypse falls short of their expectations…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Bong of the Living Dead is a 2017 zombie film, and is not related to the previously reviewed 2010 Bong of the Dead (there just happens to be a “budding” market for films about zombies and weed apparently). The film mostly centres on a group of childhood friends who grew up imagining what to do in the zombie apocalypse, and have now grown up to smoke weed and talk about the zombie apocalypse. The group finally gets their wish though, as zombies start appearing and they can start preparing their plan for survival…or just get high. I don’t know. The film tries to do quite a lot in terms of it’s story and genre: it’s a stoner comedy film, but also a meta-zombie apocalypse film that riffs on the tropes of the genre, but also takes a dark and dramatic turn for the last twenty minutes when the reality of the situation catches up to the cast. A such, it feels like it’s trying to do too many things at once, and there’s no core around which the film coheres. A lot of the film does involve the characters just getting high, which I guess would be the dominant theme, but the comedy just isn’t there to make it a simple stoner flick: as mentioned, it tries to go for a meta-take on the zombie apocalypse, but this commentary is loosely scattered through the film, and doesn’t take root. It feels like it wants to do a Shaun of the Dead-esque approach in this regard, but also a bunch of other things too.
The characters each have their own personalities and set themselves apart, but most of them don’t really come across a likable. The wobbly acting is perhaps intentional for the most part as it attempts to in-part parody low-budget zombie movies, but the actors do a decent job of handling the more emotional and dramatic scenes at the end; however, it is still a bit jarring when you have spent the film not taking them seriously. I’m not quite sure about the setting of the film: one of the main characters runs a DVD rental store, which doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would actually exist in 2017, and there’s no mobile phones anywhere, which makes me think that maybe it’s set in the early 2000s, but there’s no reference to the timeframe, so again, it’s another element that seems a bit unclear. This is certainly an indie film, but definitely not a one-man show created nearly entirely by one person: this has a full crew attached, as evidenced by the near-full credits that roll about twenty minutes in with the title card. I’m not opposed to the idea of having credits at the start of a film (this is the way they were originally presented), but to have them show up as the first act of the film ends and bring it to a stand still for nearly five minutes is pretty disruptive for the film’s pacing.
In terms of the film’s production, there’s a decent amount of competence with regards to how it’s filmed; nothing too special, but it works. The makeup on the zombies looks good, and there’s a decent amount of gore when there needs to be, but the film seems to refuse to capture anything violent on film, and any physical violence on the zombies cuts away just as it happens, or is partially obscured. I’m guessing this is either to do with trying to secure the film’s rating, or having no way of making it look convincing without hurting the actors. Either way, it is a noticeable hole in the film. Overall, it feels like Bong of the Living Dead wants to both be a stoner zombie movie, while also being a commentary on the stoner movie…while also adding a serious side to the stoner zombie movie. You’ve got a lot of sitting around smoking weed, some nudity, and some zombie whacking, while the plot point about the characters being zombie movie buffs setting up a meta-narrative doesn’t really go anywhere. The last act switching to a much darker tone as the events of the film start to take their toll on the cast does have some emotional weight to it eventually, but when you’ve been watching these people just smoke weed and base their personality on one-dimensional comedy traits, then trying to make you care for them in the last twenty minutes is a huge uphill climb that the film makes for itself, made worse by the way some of these characters act just makes them downright unlikeable. Credit to the film for trying to do something a little different, it just tries to do too many things a little different…
Bong of the Dead (2011)
Film review #540
Director: Thomas Newman
SYNOPSIS: A meteor shower that strikes the Earth has the effect of turning everyone in to zombies and thus causing an apocalypse. A few months after this, two stoners, Tommy and Edwin, discover that the zombies can be used as fertiliser to create super powerful weed. With this in mind, and their weed stocks running low, they decide to travel to the zombie infested areas to get more of their fertiliser, but on the way, they run into a young woman surviving on her own…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Bong of the Dead is a 2011 film written, produced and edited by Thomas Newman. The film opens up meteors falling to Earth, one of which lands in a man’s garden, who starts to transform into a zombie. This opening scene is played with no dialogue, as we slowly see this man transform into a zombie, along with his wife. This opening scene is fairly clever, using no dialogue, and just showing the man’s transformation using plenty of visual effects. The way his wife is shown to be as much of a zombie as he is when she’s just sitting watching TV is quite clever, and the ending shot of them sitting on the sofa casually picking out each others organs and eating them is such a well executed shot thanks to all the gore and practical effects, and its certainly not what you would expect from a low budget film called Bong of the Dead.
When we get into the film proper, we see something a bit more of what we expect to see: a few months after the meteors have caused a zombie apocalypse and wiped out society (supposedly, we don’t really see anything of it), two stoners, Tommy and Edwin are hiding out in their apartment, when Edwin shows Tommy he has found a way to turn the zombies into fertiliser that can grow super strong weed, they decide to brave going outside into the infected zones to make some more of this weed. Along the way, their car breaks down and thy meet Leah, a mechanic who helps them fix it. I think the film can be easily split into it’s good and bad points: the story is very typical and threadbare, and just consists predictably of a lot of weed smoking and occasional zombies. There’s a villain who appears in two separate scenes, but he doesn’t really have much of a role. The rest of the film is just scenes of empty dialogue that exist probably just to extend the run time. Speaking of which, the film stretches to nearly one hundred minutes, which is way too long for this sort of film. As always, I try not to be too harsh on low budget films like this made mostly by just one person, and try to judge a film based on what it tries to achieve with what it has, but the script definitely needed some help with regards to pacing, content, and just simple cuts. We also get an end credits scene that sets up for a sequel that, unsurprisingly, never came. Why do so many of these low budget films love to set up for a sequel that they never make?
On the positive side, the film’s gore is really good and creative: the practical effects are flowing with flesh and blood, and even in close-ups, it looks pretty convincing. The action scenes where the zombies are getting sliced up look great, and there’s so much blood and gore that covers everyone it’s quite impressive, and gives a real authenticity to proceedings. Apart from this though, the rest of the production is more obviously limited by the budget and being a mostly one man operation, with fairly obvious greenscreens, and a lot of scenes being shot in someone’s house. Even though the camerawork and framing feels like it could have been better, for one person with a camcorder, it’s fine. Overall, for an almost one-man production, Bong of the Dead does some things better than you would expect: the practical effects are good, and there’s some effort put in to throwing about as much blood and gore as possible in some scenes. This is counterbalanced in the story not having anything special outside of typical stoner humour and zombie apocalypse stuff, and an overly long runtime dilute the positives, so we’re left with a fairly typical film that does what you expect. nevertheless, credit where it is due to Thomas Newman for pulling this off almost entirely by himself.
Ninja Apocalypse (2014)
Film review #461
Director: Lloyd Lee Barnett
SYNOPSIS: in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, a summit is called between the various ninja clans for peace talks, as clan leader Fumitaka believes the clans must come together to overcome an external threat that threatens all of them. The clans agree to the terms, but Fumitaka is suddenly assassinated, with witnesses saying that Cage, leader of the Lost Ninja clan, was the one who did it. Cage and his fellow clan members are forced to flee, and must find a way out the bunker where the peace talks are being held, with all the other ninja warriors out to get them…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Ninja Apocalypse is a 2014 post-apocalypse martial arts film. Set after the collapse of society through nuclear war (as with most post-apocalyptic films), what remains of humanity seems to have banded into various ninja clans (for some reason). Fumitaka, the leader of one of the clans, holds a peace conference between the clans at his bunker, where he claims they must unite to fight an “external force” that threatens them all. The clans agree, but Fumitaka is suddenly assassinated, and three witnesses claim it was Cage, the leader of the Lost Ninja clan, that did it. Cage and his clan ninjas flee, attempting to escape the bunker while fighting off the remaining clans. The story is fairly simple to follow, even if it doesn’t make much sense: why is everyone a ninja in the post-apocalypse? Why do they have magic powers? Are they mutations or supernatural? Not much is explained, but then again it is a martial arts movie, and doesn’t need too much explanation. The whole premise is very silly, and manages to get even sillier when it introduces zombies. Overall it’s not a story that will keep your interest, and while there’s a few twists and surprises, doesn’t offer too much.
The various clans of ninjas we see at the beginning of the film all have unique special powers, including lightning, fire and illusion. As mentioned, there’s no explanation of these powers and whether they are mutations or supernatural, but it’s not too much of a concern. Apparently their powers have a certain limit and have to recharge, but it’s mechanics are not explained any further. These abilities make the film a bit more over-the-top and unique, but they’re not utilised in a massive way to bolster the film as a whole into a unique experience. The characters themselves are a fairly typical bunch of tropes, with Cage and his brother Surge being at odds with one another forming the most notable relation between characters. Cage’s rivalry with Becker, leader of the fire-based ninja clan, is also fairly interesting, and it’s fun to watch them interact, but there’s too little of it. The big reveal of the villain at the end has little impact too because we see very little of Cage and the villain actually interacting, so we are left only with exposition to fill in the gap.
This is not a high budget production. The film is almost exclusively set in this nuclear bunker, which means there is no need for complex sets, and most of the action takes place in non-descript corridors, stairwells and industrial empty rooms. The CG is pretty basic stuff and probably something anyone could make in After Effects, but it’s not overused too much, and is mainly just to create blood splatter, which the film doesn’t linger too closely on (although sometimes the physics of the blood is noticeably off). The acting can sometimes be alright, but other times is very stuff and wooden, making the whole experience very uneven. The most important aspect of a martial arts film has to be the fight scenes, and the ones in Ninja Apocalypse are…fine I guess. The actual stunts and fighting are good, but the editing of them is often too sharp and ruins the flow. There’s plenty of variety though, from the various ninja clans and their unique powers to slicing up zombies. Overall though Ninja Apocalypse is a fairly forgettable affair with a threadbare story and limited characters. There’s a few decent stunts and fights, but they are ultimately hampered in their editing and composition. There’s not much to really take away from this film, apart from the premise should be much more interesting than what is delivered on screen.