Written and Directed by: Steve Hudgins
Starring: Steve Hudgins, P.J. Woodside, and Grey Hurt[
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ďYou damn fool! Didnít you ever see The Blob? They went to pokiní on that meteorite with a stick, and all hell broke loose!Ē
The last few years have proven that when there is no room left for zombies on store shelves, the dead will walk the earth anyway. Itís a genre thatís been done to (ahem) death lately, and director Steve Hudgins and Biting Pig Productions arenít about to be left out of the action. Their latest feature, Hell is Full (eat your heart out, Ken Foree), aims to shake up the genre with an alternate take that reminds us that before theyíre shambling cadavers, zombies were once real people with real (mostly mundane) lives.
A rural town in the Midwest is the latest site of a zombie outbreak. We apparently begin just as itís getting started--a local man finds his friendís abandoned truck splashed with blood. He drives the truck back to his buddyís house, where the friend sounds like heís coughing is guts out. Before long, we discover that the friend is just one of many around town who have been turned into the walking dead. The film then unfolds as a series of vignettes that reveal just who these zombies were before they were turned.
Hell is Full is certainly a gimmicky experience, with a fractured narrative thatís akin to peeling back the layers of an onion. Each vignette is dedicated to a character, with each one going back and expanding upon the events of the previous one. It gives the feeling of watching a film in reverse, which is fun enough until the trick gets a bit tired and cumbersome. The effect falls apart a bit once any sense of chronology is thrown to the wind; sure, everything is ultimately intertwined, and itís initially interesting to see the same characters pop up between segments, but itís all a bit chaotic. This might imply a sort of breakneck pace that at least remains entertaining, but thatís not quite true, either. Instead, the film just sort of leisurely unfolds with some mundane proceedings. As is to be expected, some characters are more interesting than others, but the nature of the filmís structure tells us itís all for naught. Itís like a zombie version of Nashville, only the characters are pretty dull and donít really accomplish anything of note.
That might be the biggest problem with this one: sure, itís a fine experiment with narrative structure, but it feels like thatís the only reason it exists. Good zombie films work because many of them have that pivotal moment where a main character is faced with becoming a walking corpse themselves; this one flips that dynamic on its head, and we donít even spend enough time with many of them to care why they became zombies in the first place. Some manage to be memorable (mostly because of their Kentucky drawl and silly antics), but thatís about it. I suppose the film is interesting in that it shows the sort of domino effect a zombie outbreak can have, but thatís about it. Besides that, itís almost like a soap opera-style saga of cheating spouses and other people who live otherwise listless lives.
Thereís also some requisite gore scenes that most zombie films canít be without. These are effective enough, as theyíre nice and gooey, and full of grue. The title carries apocalyptic portent, but there's little sense of dread atmosphere or suspense to accompany the bloodshed, mostly because the film is shot in broad daylight and features some pretty generic musical cues. Itís further hindered by the usual inexperienced acting that you find in low-budget productions such as this. All of the action is captured competently enough, but there isnít enough visual flair to help the material rise above its weak script. This one could have been salvaged a bit in the editing room, as a few trims here and there could have kept it from becoming overly tedious.
Hell is Full is certainly an interesting curiosity; the post-modern, fractured narratives that have become popular over the past two decades, and it works well here. Like so many independent films, this is a case of a nice concept that just isnít executed as well as it could have been. If youíre a zombie aficionado, you can check the film out by purchasing it from the Biting Pig website; the disc features an anamorphic transfer and a soundtrack that are more than adequate. Thereís also a decent amount of special features too, which include a blooper reel, deleted scenes, trailers and an audio commentary. While it isnít a downright awful affair, this one is best suited for the most die-hard undead fans out there. All others are advised to wait around for Netflix to pick it up and just Rent it!
For more information, please visit the Biting Pig website.
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