I Survived A Zombie Holocaust (2014)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

“It’s a zombie film…but at its heart it’s a love story,” says nerdy novice runner Wesley (Harley Neville), trying to pitch a script to director SMP (Andrew Laing). “It also has a lot of comedic moments. It’s a horr-edy. You’re laughing one minute, you’re jumping out of your seat the next.”

“Horr-edy”, SMP replies, “is not a word – and mash-ups never work.” He goes on to use Wesley’s screenplay as toilet paper.

Writer-director Guy Pigden is banking on SMP being wrong, because his own feature debut, I Survived a Zombie Holocaust, is not unlike the film that Wesley is describing (and SMP is dismissing). Of course, local history is on Pigden’s side, as it was New Zealand which, with Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992), helped spawn the whole hybrid ‘RomZomCom’ form that would make films like Shaun of the Dead (2004), Fido (2006) and Zombieland (2009) both possible and popular. The basic premise here – a film crew shooting a horror feature find themselves in the middle of a real zombie outbreak – comes straight from George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007), but Pigden uses it for full-on postmodern satire, sending up not just tired old zombie movie tropes but also the ills and absurdities of low-budget horror production itself.

Here we have a megalomaniac director, a desperate AD (Simon Ward), a pair of vapid, self-absorbed celebrities (Mike Edward, Reannin Johannink), a rugby-obsessed location manager (Ben Baker), an actor who has taken the ‘method’ too far (Patrick Davies), a demoralised scriptwriter (Harry Love), and an all-American props master (Mark Neilson) whose credo is to shoot first and never bother asking questions before or later. They are no less clichéd than the characters in the film that they are making, but together they subvert all manner of expectations as the very reality around them begins developing into a schlock B-movie. Beleaguered by impossible shooting schedules, unreasonably demanding employers and the ravenous undead, Wesley is beginning to realise that, no matter how unlikely it may seem that he will ever win the heart of set caterer Susan (Jocelyn Christian) or survive the zombie holocaust, succeeding in the independent film sector is an even more improbable scenario.

More or less immunising itself against charges of unoriginality by constantly offering reflexive commentary on its own movie-bound qualities (or lack thereof), Pigden’s film is an affectionate trawl though the mechanics of the modern zombie picture. Broadly (in every sense) funny, and with a good heart to match all the blood and guts, I Survived A Zombie Holocaust is an infectiously self-consuming artifact from the land of the haka – not just a(nother) RomZomCom, but also a savvy ‘meta weta’.

Anton Bitel