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Mark Anderson Phillips,
A creative, original and hilarious independent gem
I found Wasting Away on the shelves of Fopp recently after its Region 2 release here in the UK. I didn't buy it the first time I saw it because I find myself in a permanent state of skintness and therefore have difficulty justifying buying DVDs. However, packaging can be a powerful thing and the DVD cover for 'Wasting Away' looked great, had an intriguing synopsis and some positive reviews, so finally after watching the trailer (and, admittedly, after checking to see if the film was available online, which it wasn't) I bought it on DVD for a very reasonable £10, which is still the most I've spent on a DVD for about 2 years.
To cut to the chase it was worth every penny, and probably more. This is an independent film from California, with a fairly low budget of $1m, but it's nearly impossibly to tell this from the finished product, which is bright, ballsy and polished. Presumably the filmmakers must have had to cut corners to keep within their meagre budget but it's hard to see where they did so and this look of the film easily competes with higher-budget studio fare.
'Wasting Away' fits neatly into the "romzomcom" genre pioneered by 'Shaun of the Dead', but I hasten to add that 'Wasting Away' is not 'Shaun of the Dead', and is not trying to be. Four twenty-somethings spending time in the bowling alley where Tim (Michael Terry) works are unfortunate enough to eat soft-serve ice-cream composed of beer and the toxic waste from a military experiment gone wrong, subsequently die, and wake up as zombies. Except they don't know it. Their confusion is quickly compounded by an encounter with Nick Steele (Colby French), who has also been zombified but insists that they have all been transformed into 'supersoldiers' whilst everyone else in the city has been infected by an inferior brand of the same chemical (in fact, no one else has been affected).
Director Matthew Kohnen bravely tackles the zombie perspective and all the problems that come along with it (sample problem: if living human beings see zombies, as slow, lurching and groaning, how do zombies see us?) and clearly has a lot of fun doing so. The plot races along fast enough that the audience is never bored, but well-paced enough that we have time to get to know the characters and meditate on the ridiculous situation they are in. The dialogue is rife with humour and the actors sell it perfectly. Honourable mentions should go to Colby French, whose hard-nosed, sincere performance as "black ops" soldier Nick Steele is played straight rather than camped up and wouldn't be out of place in any Romero zombie film, and Matthew Davis, who delivers every line handled too him perfectly and never fails to bring the humour out of it.
Before I get too carried away I should point out that this film isn't perfect. At times it is laugh-out loud funny but at others the humour falls flat, or is just a little bit lame. Also, while the acting is mainly strong, particularly in French and Davis' performances, in other places it is weak or wooden. Some of the plot points feel a little contrived and the humour is occasionally too juvenile to be genuinely funny. But at the end of the day, these flaws are not only eclipsed by the positives, they even add to the film somewhat, making it more likable because of its imperfections.
This is a strong directorial debut from Matthew Kohnen, a filmmaker whose other credits seem to mainly consist of clerical or technical jobs, and I will certainly be looking out for more of his work. 'Wasting Away' stands out amidst the boggy mire that is modern horror cinema, a diamond in the mud of tired remakes and boring sequels that is all Hollywood seems capable of producing. It's refreshing, original, gleefully gross and most of all, it's fun. It's fun to watch and it looks like it was fun to make. The only thing that particularly disappoints me is the marketing failure. As far as I'm aware, 'Wasting Away' did not get a theatrical release over here and were it not for Fopp and their avid promotion of smaller independent films I would probably ever have heard of it. So watch it, enjoy it, and pass it on to ensure it gets the recognition it deserves.
I leave you with a quote from the film's theme song, which pretty much says it all: "You know your day will suck when the dead start walking the streets, And their only source of nourishment is Human meat."
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