Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Distributed by Blackhorse Entertainment (now defunct)
Directed by Ed Evers-Swindell
In the near future, a deadly virus has decimated the Earth's surface and forced humanity to dwell underground in vast subterranean cities. When an expeditionary team fails to report back, a ragtag unit of military misfits and misanthropes (including team leader Sash and brooding anti-hero Loki) is hastily thrown together and sent topside to find out exactly what has happened to them. Scientists have developed a serum which gives limited immunity to the virus, but that deadline has passed, so the expeditionary team should (in theory) all be dead.
The giveaway line is 'We're still getting activity readings on their personal locators'...dyed-in-the-wool fans of genre cinema will know exactly what to expect!
'Infestation' hits the ground running with a prologue comprised of two terrific action sequence wherein Sash and Loki fight off members of the 'Tunnel Rats' terrorist outfit with a mixture of gunplay and fisticuffs, which then seamlessly segues into CGI jetspeeder chase throughout the labyrinthe of the underground city's erstwhile skyline (if that makes sense?) which is every bit as good as the similar sequence in Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones, and doesn't feature Hayden Christensen either! What's not to love?
Loki (Ross Evison). Could Lisa Rogers tell the difference between him and Ralf Little after a few drinks? Probably not...
Loki disobeys a direct order to abandon the pursuit of the last remaining terrorist, and in doing so causes an accident in which civilian lives are lost. He's kicked out of his job and we next find him some months later drowning his sorrows in a bar, having drifted into depression. Fortunately, his old colleague Sash has just been handed a mission which would suit a near-suicidal pilot down to the ground, and so Loki is brought out of his enforced retirement to join the team going up to the surface.
Sash is starting to regret taking this assignment on...
After the team is introduced, there's a needless but well executed sequence in which the one of thrusters on their rocket elevator malfunctions (again done with CGI), meaning they could miss their window with the automatic, override-proof vents and doors which their craft is supposed to navigate, and thus be killed. Unsurprisingly, they make it after the thruster miraculously kicks in again. Like a Bond film, you know they're not going to die (at least not this early on...) but the scene is staged in such a way that it still grabs your attention and has you wondering how they're going to find a way out of it. As such it's rather a disappointment when the answer is simply good fortune. I felt this would have been a good opportunity to add a little characterisation to the team, to see how they cope with and rectify the situation? Which one panics? Who's the aggressive one who'd rather argue than fix the problem? Who takes the lead and sorts the problem out, and how do they do it? All this sequence establishes is that Freeman, their Commander, doesn't really care much whether they live or die, but we'd pretty much gathered that already, especially where Loki is concerned.
This picture gives a much better impression of what the film is like, although I've no idea where it's from or where it's used.
The opening scenes all have that sort of bleached-out, post-processed blueish-greenish hue which seems so beloved of music video directors working with nu-metal bands and the people who made 'Saw'. Of course, when filming in an ostensibly underground location, one must limit oneself solely to artificial light sources, and it has the added bonus of complimenting the CGI sequences which are largely green on black in the style of a nightvision camera, which makes perfect sense if you think about it. It's simple, logical and it works, and it's also probably cheaper and quicker than doing it in full colour.
Once topside, the mood of the film changes somewhat, as does the colour pallette, but more importantly so does the pace. The second act is extremely slow, all the more noticeably so having come off the back of the action-packed first act. Very little happens (too little, to be frank) save for some exposition and the added problem of having to find an hidden access hatch so that they can get to the ship which will take them home before their immunity to the surface conditions expires.
I've seen bits of 'Infestation' on TV a couple of times, and every time I was compelled to switch over and watch something else. It's only now that I have seen the full film that I realise it was because I was always coming in midway through the second act. It's the Achilles' Heel of this movie.
What makes the second act appear to be even more of a dog is the fact that it is sandwiched between the first and third, which are both very well done save for a bizarre shoot-out sequence near the film's climax. It's hard to put your finger on why it doesn't work specifically...things happen, the plot advances, people die, but possibly it simply takes too much time to do so.
'Mad Dog' Maddox lets 'em have it!
Still, if you can make it through, your patience is well and truly rewarded with the third act, the highlight of which is surely Loki and the remaining survivor of the original team taking on a horde of zombies within the claustrophobic confines of the makeshift command centre, including a nifty escape into an attic that the likes of Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa would be proud of!
Overall, in terms of 'bang for your buck', it's safe to say the producers got more out than they put in. Aside from the sagging second act, this is really quite a respectable little movie. I've no doubt it could be a lot more polished overall if they had a bigger budget to play with, but as it is, and for the money that was spent, it's a creditable achievement. It's further differentiated from other films of the same budgetary ilk by some undeniable quality in terms of the music used, the impressive opening title sequence, and the CGI.
I believe this is the cover for the Asian market...it bears little resemblance to the film itself!
Refreshingly, the CGI is actually used fairly sparingly, which is quite a rarity these days. The only moments it is jarringly bad are the end of the opening chase sequence and a couple of the explosions at the film's finale. Other than that it is extremely well done, especially when one bears the miniscule budget in mind. You'll see a lot worse in one of the Sci-Fi channel's made-for-TV movies or an Asylum flick, for example (not to knock or disparage either of them in any way, just using them as a frame of reference).
The effective and judicious employment of the CGI could perhaps act as a metaphor for the film as a whole. It never makes the fatal mistake of trying to cram too much in or overreaching its limitations to the extent that it makes them too glaringly obvious. It's not bogged down by too many subplots or ancilliary characters, and whether this is due more to budgetary constraints or the filmmakers simply be very disciplined and trimming the unnecessary fat is ultimately irrelevant. In short, it works.
The DVD is not exactly overloaded with extras...there's a commentary track and scene access, and that's it. However, the commentary alone is worth more than its weight in gold (yes, I'm aware DVD commentaries have no physical weight per se, but I'm mixing metaphors here!). It's brutally honest, self-deprecating and hyper-critical, and fully acknowledges all of the problems with the film that I had identified while watching it. It also provides a lot of eye-opening insights into a number of things I hadn't noticed. Evers-Swindell states at the beginning that people who buy this DVD will fall into one of two groups: those with an interest in low-budget filmmaking, and those who will be taking the DVD back to the store tomorrow and asking for their money back. As you may have guessed, I class myself firmly as the former.
US cover, I believe...something of a '28 Days Later' riff if we're honest.
Truth be told, it's something of a low-budget filmmaking masterclass, so much so in fact that producer Stuart Fletcher is one of the feature interviewees/case studies in The Guerilla Filmmakers handbook, alongside such notables as Jake 'Razor Blade Smile/Evil Aliens/Doghouse' West, deltacinenomophile Neil 'Dog Soldiers/Descent/Doomsday' Marshall (Infestation cover blurbee, no less!), Edgar 'Shaun of The Dead/Hot Fuzz' Wright, the guys who produced Saw, Blair Witch, Open Water, and some guy called Christopher Nolan, whoever he is. That's some pretty fast company in anybody's book.
Perhaps Evers-Swindell is correct in his assertion regarding audience reaction, that 'Infestation' will prove to be the archetypal 'Marmite movie'...you'll either love it or you'll hate it. If you, like me, love no-budget genre cinema (which I'd assume is the reason you're here reading this) then you'll likely get a kick out of 'Infestation'.
On the other hand, if you prefer your movies in the multi-million dollar, overblown orgy of CGI with some gangsta rapper in the token black role contemporary Hollywood moviemaking paradigm, then 'Infestation' will come as something of a cinematic culture shock. You'd probably be better off waiting until the Hollywood braintrust tires (read: totally exhausts) of remaking/reimagining/remixing films and instead adopts the musical mixing technique known as the 'Mash Up' and applies said technique to 'Aliens' and 'Day Of The Dead'.
(While we're on the subject of throwing together film franchises, how much cooler would 'Alien vs. Predator' have been if they'd called the sequel with the hybrid creature 'Alienator', thus spawning a hybrid franchise and giving us a cooler name than 'Predalien'? Lighting it so people could actually see what was going on would have been a big plus too, I feel.)
In terms of value for money, I got my copy of 'Infestation' off of Ebay dirt cheap, so I feel it represents excellent value, especially given the gut-spilling commentary track. If you see it at a price you feel happy paying, my advice would be to go for it. At the moment, it seems many of the titles that were being distributed by the now defunct Blackhorse Entertainment are popping up for some pretty high prices simply due to the relative rarity factor, so you might have to do some digging to turf a copy up at a reasonable price. In my opinion, it is well worth the effort in doing so.
Failing that, 'Infestation' does sometimes crop up on Movies4Men late at night, but this is a cut version whereas the DVD presents the film in all its uncut and gory glory.
All told, it's another one that is going to be finding itself a permanent home on my 'keep' shelf (the Vatican Library of low budget genre cinema, I tell you!). If you have any interest in low budget movies and the makings thereof, then this one is an education and a half. You might also be interested in checking out the three-part 'Making Of Infestation' BTS (inexplicably not included on the DVD version I have) on Evers-Swindell's own YouTube page, although it's nowhere close to being as near to the knuckle as the commentary track...