State of Emergency (2011)
What It's About: I really haven't reviewed a zombie movie yet, unless you count Messiah of Evil, which is probably too weird to actually classify as such. State of Emergency is as basic a zombie movie as it gets, though it goes with the "fast, technically-living zombie" popularized by Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Here we have our protagonist Jim and his fiancee Emilie stranded on a farm in Montgomery County (not too far off from where I used to live, and it certainly looks like PA, so it was probably actually filmed in Montgomery County) after sirens and neighbors behaving strangely inspire them to hop in the car and skip town for a while, which works fine until the car flips over. Emilie dies in the first couple of scenes, since she took a fatal wound during the crash, and Jim holes up with his sniper rifle to wait out whatever's going on.
The government has declared -- wait for it -- a state of emergency, and a zombie attack leaves Jim pretty well aware of what kind of emergency. He's contacted before long by a group hiding out in the warehouse just across the field. (It's a pretty big tobacco farm, so it's still part of the same property.) Jim makes it over to the warehouse and joins up with the other group -- Scott, his wife Julie, and the bafflingly named Ix, a woman they found hiding in a storm drain. The rest is pretty standard. Zombies wandering the countryside, news of military intervention, etc.
Why You Should Watch It: I'm not totally sure why I like this movie, but I do. I guess you could say it's a low-budget version of The Crazies, but it kind of stands out in a couple of ways. Part of it is that things happen pretty much as I would expect if you're stuck in Montgomery County farmland during the zombie apocalypse. It turns out rural zombie invasions are really boring. Everyone just sits around and talks. Sometimes they go up on the roof, and hey, there's...one zombie over there in the cornfield. Shoot him? Nah, he's just standing there too. Sometimes an oversight or a medical necessity results in a dangerous situation, but for the most part, not much happens. Oddly enough, I kind of like that. The poster above is not representative of the film. That city in the background? Not in the movie. The overturned car? Also not in the movie -- well, it is, but Jim never stands on it and shoots a bunch of zombies, because that zombie horde is also not in the movie. There are about ten zombies in the entire movie. Not even ten at once, just ten total.
The acting is fairly wooden and the dialogue is sort of boring small talk most of the time. Sure sounds like there's a storm brewing. Yeah, probably gonna rain soon. We'd better get inside. Yeah. (That's not actually from the movie, but you get the idea.) I still can't bring myself to dislike it, because there's something endearingly genuine about the whole thing. The characters are somehow convincing in spite of themselves. It's not a cynical movie, people don't swear every other word, they just hang out on a farm during the most laid-back zombie apocalypse ever. What I like most about this movie is really the ending, because it goes so thoroughly against the grain that it took me entirely off guard. If you're going to watch the movie, don't read the next paragraph, because it'll spoil things for you.
So, about the end of this movie. You know how every zombie movie ever ends. The group fractures from within as interpersonal tensions rise and supplies dwindle. Stupid decisions get people killed, and just when the last few members of the group think they've escaped, the military shows up to shoot all the survivors and cover up the evidence. The plague spreads with no end in sight. It's frankly tiresome. People who make horror movies seem to accept this unspoken rule that the movie must end on the worst note possible for everyone involved, even when it makes no sense, because hey, that's just how horror movies end. So I was pleasantly surprised when State of Emergency defied the precedent set by nearly every zombie movie since Night of the Living Dead. Jim and Scott fight once or twice, but the group never falls apart. Ix turns out to be diabetic...but Jim gets some insulin from a supply drop in time to save her. No one dies. And when the military shows up at the end, there's a bit of a fake-out where you think they're engaged in the usual coverup...but it turns out they shot Jim with a tranquilizer dart. They're there to help, the guy in charge apologizes to Jim for everything he's gone through and offers any assistance he can provide, and it even looks as if the army has the zombie invasion well in hand, because it wasn't worldwide after all, just the result of faulty equipment at a local chemical plant. To top it all off, Jim, who has apparently always been sort of an unhappy loner apart from Emilie, is reunited with Scott, Julie and Ix, and it's clear that he now considers them close friends.
This is my favorite zombie movie ending in quite a while, simply because it's uncharacteristically happy for the genre. I didn't think there was such a thing as a feel-good zombie movie, but if there is, this is it, and it's worth checking out on principle despite its individual elements being somewhat weak.
Available On: Netflix.