Undead (2003)

Undead first published by Movie Gazette, 29 Dec 2004

René (Felicity Mason) may have just been crowned beauty queen in the small Queensland fishing community of Berkeley, but with the loan sharks circling her debt-ridden farm, she is set to flee to the big city – except that it is not so easy to leave when a shower of strange meteors has suddenly turned most of the townsfolk into ravenous zombies, and a gigantic wall has encircled the town. Holed up with charter pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins), his pregnant wife Sallyanne (Lisa Cunningham), foul-mouthed police sergeant Harrison (Dirk Hunter) and his rooky constable Molly (Emma Randall), in the farmhouse of a heavily armed eccentric named Marion (Mungo McKay) – who is convinced that they have been “chosen” to take humanity’s last stand against an alien invasion – René is destined to learn that “Miss Catch of the Day” is a post with grave responsibilities attached.

Like so many independent filmmakers before them, twins Peter and Michael Spierig have set their directorial debut within the confines of a small town – but rather than settling for a gentle, reflective piece about coming of age or young love, the Spierigs have instead fashioned an affectionate tribute to B-grade cinema and all manner of trash genres, making their chosen town the unlikely setting for flesh-eating mayhem, extraterrestrial intervention and apocalyptic rapture – without ever quite forgetting that Berkeley is first and foremost a place popular for fishing. Although limited to a budget of under a million Australian dollars (which they raised themselves), the Spierig brothers would seem to have almost boundless ambition, writing, producing, directing and editing this madcap hybrid of comedy, action, science fiction and horror, and even creating the elaborate digital effects on their own home computer. The resulting labour of love packs more punch than many films made for ten times the budget, and while it would be easy to quibble with the one-note acting (especially from Mungo McKay) and occasional narrative incoherences, Undead looks fantastic, and has enough over-the-top gore, bizarre laughs and twisted genre references to guarantee it cult success.

Undead is not exactly the strangest zombies-from-space crossover film ever to have been made (that would be the outrageous Japanese rock’n’roll gorefest Wild Zero) – nor is it even the first, let alone the best, Antipodean zom-com (check Peter Jackson’s jaw-dropping Braindead) – but if you are hankering for a film that combines gun-toting heroics, undead shenanigans, messianic conspiracy theory and lines like “When I was a kid, we fuckin’ respected our parents – we didn’t fuckin’ eat ’em”, then Undead really is the catch of the day. Any zombie spoof these days is expected to give credit to George A. Romero’s genre-defining trilogy, but besides paying due homage to all three of those films (as well as Romero’s The Crazies for good measure), Undead also pastiches movies as varied as Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985), James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996). Even the flying killer fish from Piranha II: the Spawning (1981) make a bizarre appearance here – and no doubt what that genre monstrosity did for a young James Cameron’s cinematic career, this attention-grabbing debut will do for the Spierigs. 

With a bigger budget, nothing should be able to confine the brothers’ plans for world domination, and it can only be hoped that their forthcoming vampire survival flick Daybreakers will further extend their infectiously funny assault on all decency and good taste. 

Summary: The Spierigs’ feature debut is an infectiously enjoyable low-budget tale of hungry zombies, misunderstood aliens, apocalyptic salvation and fishing.

Anton Bitel