This summer has already seen its big-screen share of zombies (World War Z) and underwater aliens (Pacific Rim), but two movies in theatrical release and on VOD starting today take novel approaches to these subjects.
The obviously British-based Cockneys vs. Zombies is a horror-comedy hoot à la Shaun of the Dead but I actually enjoyed this one a little more. When dim-witted construction workers open an underground vault that was ordered sealed by King Charles II in 1666, they unleash an invasion of the undead on London. The timing couldn’t be worse for a rowdy but well-meaning group of young adults who have just robbed a bank in hopes of saving a local retirement home from demolition. As they hasten to save their grandparents’ residence by pretty much any means necessary, an assortment of flesh-craving zombies is moving in on the codgers.
Matthias Hoene directs the knowing, very funny script by James Moran and Lucas Roche with aplomb, zippily moving between scenes of gory street-bound mayhem and those of the retirees barricading themselves. There is a hilarious scene wherein an old man with a walker capably “outruns” the slow-moving zombies on his heels; needless to say, these aren’t the Brad Pitt variety. Both the younger and elder cast members are eagerly in on the joke, with Honor Blackman — Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore herself — and Georgia King (Goldie on the sadly cancelled TV series The New Normal, whom I didn’t know was from the UK until seeing her back to back in this and the upcoming Austenland) particular standouts.
By contrast, the new sci-fi suspenser Europa Report attempts to break new ground with its meticulously researched, beautifully designed take on long-range space travel. More of a “delayed transmission” than “found footage” potboiler, Europa Report reconstructs events around the first manned voyage to Jupiter’s largest moon more than a year after communications from the ship mysteriously went silent.
The six internationally recruited crew members of the vessel must journey nearly two years to reach Europa. When one of them is lost along the way, it proves to be a foreboding omen of things to come. We viewers don’t get to know much about the astronauts’ backgrounds or home lives, which I feel is an unfortunate discrepancy in Philip Gelatt’s otherwise obsessed-with-detail screenplay. Still, it is impossible not to be moved by the heroic sacrifice made mid-mission by James Corrigan (played by Sharlto Copley of District 9 and next week’s Elysium).
I liked the film’s slow build and hints of menace, many of them provided by Michael Nyqvist (Blomkvist in the Swedish film versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy) as a stir-crazy officer. Unfortunately, the menace becomes more obvious and too literal once the ship lands on the ice-covered Europa. Water is discovered beneath the ice, which astronomers largely agree is likely, and there turns out to be something living in it. Europa Report, which is directed by Ecuadoran filmmaker Sebastian Cordero (Cronicas), is best when it is intensely but thoughtfully speculative and leaves conclusions to the astronauts’ and audience’s imaginations.
Europa Report: B-
Cockneys vs. Zombies: B+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.