Written by: John Doolan (screenplay), Steve Niles (original graphic novel)
Directed by: Colin Theys
Starring: Miko Hughes, Lance Reddick and Grant Bowler
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
This town will eat you alive.
Remains seems like an appropriate title for a zombie movie arriving this late in the game. After all, that’s pretty much what we’re left with at this point: the decaying, hacked-up leftovers of a genre that’s been cannibalized, devoured, and regurgitated over the past decade to the point of near-exhaustion. This offering is actually based on a graphic novel created way back in 2004 by Steve Niles, the guy who did cool things with vampires in 30 Days of Night some years ago. History does not repeat itself with Remains, though, as I’m not sure this movie could be any more like every zombie movie you’ve ever seen at this point.
The site of the zombie apocalypse this time is Reno, where scientists are fiddling around with nuclear material. Something goes wrong, and they unleash a hazardous material that turns just about everyone into zombies. Those who were lucky enough to be holed up were spared from the mutation, such as a handful of people that happened to be locked away down in the bowels of a local hotel and casino. Tori (Evalena Marie), Tom (Grant Bowler), and Jansen (Miko Hughes) immediately turn their thoughts to fortifying the place and riding out these end times.
You could do worse when it comes to settings; theoretically, a huge hotel and casino opens the door for a bunch of ingenious stuff. It’d be like the Monroeville Mall, only with more floors and levels; you could probably make an entire movie out of just cleaning the place out, but Remains is not that movie. The hotel is oddly vacant for the most part, so the housecleaning sequence is short and uneventful, and it looks like these three are pretty solidly holed up. So of course they end up letting someone else in who proves to be a bit of a self-serving dumbshit, and Remains starts degenerating into a parade of shambling clichés: the in-fighting that leads the group to getting themselves in a sticky situation, the discussions about if it’s worth living in this apocalyptic new world, the conversations about their pasts (“there was a girl” and "there was an accident” join the procession of cliches), etc. A ragtag army shows up, and you’re not going to believe this, but they’re not there to help; instead, they’re kind of pissy and shady and only cause problems.
That Remains is like a cardboard husk filled with clichés isn’t the worst problem--it’s that you've seen them all executed better in other places. Urgency and tension are pretty much non-existent since everyone seems more bummed out and bored than scared, and the movie thuds along accordingly. Technically, downtime is scarce since it jumps from one zombie sequence to another, but it’s all rather flatlined and dull, with most of the characters being bland types. Once one of the 90s most creepy little kids, Hughes here is just an affable nice guy, there to contrast the machismo oozing from the other two guys’ alpha dog struggle. Marie’s Tori is kind of an enjoyable little pistol for a while, but even she eventually becomes an illogical, insufferable cartoon.
Remains does get the zombies right, which is a pretty good coup for a zombie movie. The designs are practical and gruesome, and there’s eventually a plentiful array (which just makes you wonder why they didn’t just make this Hotel of the Dead or something). One of them even pops up in a washing machine for no good reason, and there is a wrinkle that has the zombies still needing to sleep, but it’s only mined for the umpteenth scene that has the living shuffling among the undead trying to avoid detection. Much of the other gore is also practical, though the budget catches up with some of the bigger sequences--a zombie tossed from a roof turns into a sludge of pixels, and a car crash is hilariously rendered (but, like any car crash, it’s difficult to look away). A stench of paucity hangs over Remains, and it can never outrun it--the exteriors never look quite real, and this is another good reminder that CGI fire should die in an actual fire. Remains is a good example of a movie trying to be bigger than it should be--I imagine a kick-ass little concept is buried in here somewhere, something that’s more like The Raid and less like, well, every other zombie movie that trudges through all of these beats.
Maybe something got lost in translation between the original graphic novel and this. I’ve not read it, and, even if this is a faithful adaptation, Remains probably only felt fresh when it was published way back in 2004. Now, though, it’s just the same old shit going by a different name, and it doesn't smell as sweet. The film originally aired on the Chiller network, and I suppose it’s right on par with most of its SyFy brethren, only it’s much less reliant on obviously bad CGI. Unfortunately, it’s just about as forgettable as many of those movies. You can try you own hand at it with Shout Factory’s DVD and Blu-ray offerings, both of which feature an unrated version of the film. The presentation on the latter is pretty solid---the transfer is crisp throughout, and the film is mostly decent looking despite its obvious low-budget. Audio is a little less impressive--the DTS-MA track is lossless but is only a 2.0 track, so the directional sounds are a little less precise. A typical set of extras accompany the film: bloopers, TV spots, a trailer, a teaser, and a short film (broken up into three episodes) that acts a prequel. Director Colin Theys, screenwriter John Dolan, and makeup supervisor Ben Chester also drop by to provide an audio commentary. Obviously, Remains doesn’t break any ground, probably because the ground its re-treading has been pulverized into dust by now, and it barely leaves any distinctive footprints while passing through. Rent it!
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