A prologue introduces us to Dr Thapar (Mohan Randhawa), being interviewed on a current affairs TV programme about a controversial new drug called Zachary 3 which his pharmaceutical company have developed. "Our drug promises to feed the world by destroying the pests and diseases that wipe out crops and livelihoods" he insists, as his female interviewer (Claire Reilly) grills him about the ethics of doling the pesticide out to farmers prior to it having been sufficiently tested for side effects.
Sure enough, within days we witness as people around the country start coughing and dropping like flies. They re-awake moments later, transformed into salivating, flesh-hungry zombies. Oh dear. In no time at all, the virus has spread globally. Cue a gory montage of devastation: cannibalistic attacks, aeroplanes crashing into buildings etc.
The main plot then begins nine months later. The focus here is on an apparently lone survivor, James (Christopher Clarke). For whatever reason, he's immune to the virus that pollutes the air. To this end, he's settled himself into an empty middle-class house on an estate in Coventry. The zombies are photosensitive and so only come out at night, at which time James hides out in the house eating tinned food under cover of candlelight, with only a mangy teddy bear for company. By day, he scours the empty streets on his bicycle looking for provisions. His is not a happy existence.
One sunny afternoon while scouting the area on his bike, James happens upon Tommy (Simon Jarrett). He's a fellow survivor, who's been living in a heavily sheltered commune called "the village", just outside of Birmingham. Alas, he had a disagreement with the leader - Joshua (Steven Rostance) - and so was kicked out of the commune as a result. Unconscious and suffering from a zombie bite on his arm, James takes him back to the house and nurses him back to health.
Once initial suspicions of one another have been overcome, James and Tommy begin to bond. We learn of James' grieving for his dead boyfriend and Tommy's pining for his family. "I want to go and find my wife and son" he appeals. This entails a hike to Kenilworth, which James is understandably reluctant to do. However, he clearly likes the sound of "the village" and the comfortable life with fuel, food and company that it promises. If he can help Tommy reunite with his family, he reasons, they could all find the commune together...
But some things are easier said than done.
I expected IMMUNE to proffer a comedy-horror along the lines of SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Far from it, it's a deliberately paced, bleakly toned 75-minute existential essay in loneliness and the fundamental need for companionship. In this respect it more closely echoed Andrew Barker's criminally under-seen A RECKONING.
The frequent scenes of Coventry's barren city streets are successfully eerie, while obviously recalling the famous footage of a dead London in 28 DAYS LATER. The film feels indebted to Danny Boyle's celebrated horror flick in general, from its tone and viral backdrop to the infrequent attacks of fast-moving zombies.
But there's more going on here. As mentioned above, themes of loneliness and the human instinct to connect are felt heavily throughout. There's a subtle undercurrent of homoerotic tension felt between the two male leads which brings an interesting extra dimension to the slow-burning drama, and helps further distinguish IMMUNE from other films of its ilk. It's not heavy-handed in the slightest: perhaps I picked up on it because the screener disc I received was accompanied by a note explaining that the film prides itself on being "one of the few horror movies that features LGBT characters in a non-stereotypical/tokenism way".
The film is shot in HD and was made on a reported budget of £180,000.00 on location in Coventry. Working with a small crew and limited resources, it has to be said the results are impressive - both visually, as the film is certainly atmospheric, and in terms of ambition. Of course, there are shortcomings that are to be expected from low-budget films: some of the acting is stilted and wooden; the occasional use of CGI tries its best but can't avoid that cheap, laptop-executed finishing effect.
With regards to the screenplay, co-written by Christopher Bourne and Simon Horton, it's largely an intelligent and pensive one. I liked that the tone was serious and grim, unrelentingly so. There are a few inconsistencies - why does James carry a small butter knife for defence when he has a hammer and pistol stashed under a settee at the house, for example - but IMMUNE is more about human issues than the finer details of the action.
The film is bookended by opening title cards which have a stylish comic strip-style which impressed from an early juncture; I was also struck by the images of civilians falling to the ground en masse during their daily routines, akin to the Radiohead video for "Just" where various bodies lie on the concrete in broad daylight. It was an oddly spooky effect back then, and remains so in this instance.
Practical FX work well, though they're employed sparingly. Director Steven Tayler is more interested in characters and relationships than overt horror tropes - and that's fine by me, as it makes for more satisfying drama on the whole.
Replete with David Tricker's slick editing, attractive 2.35:1 cinematography and Voodoo Kings' excellent rockabilly track "Cramped Up" over the end credits, IMMUNE offers plenty for horror fans unafraid of films shot without the backing or finesse of studios.
IMMUNE is currently available to download from Vimeo On Demand and Amazon.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Steven Tayler|