"From the creators of 30 DAYS OF NIGHT" …

A casino in Reno, Nevada. Inside, it’s a typical day: young security supervisor Jensen (Miko Hughes) is busy doing his checks in the storage cupboard; bad boy Tom (Grant Bowler) has taken waitress Tori (Evalena Marie) down to the basement for a good scuttling; her older colleague is having a sly cigarette in the back alley …

… And then, a huge explosion occurs on the horizon, filling the sky in mushroom fashion. The entire strip is illuminated by a blinding flash of light – and virtually everyone dies.

Tom and Tori, however, are alive and well. Upon making their way back upstairs they make the horrific discovery that everyone in sight has been transformed into ravenous, flesh-eating zombies. Everyone, that is, save for Jensen.

The trio are soon joined by Victor (Anthony Marks), who gets cleaned up and then helps them search the sprawling casino for other survivors, before boarding up its windows in an effort to keep the growing horde of hungry ghouls out.

For a short while this mismatched quartet make the most of their resources: drinking, smoking, gambling and practicing magic tricks in the casino’s cabaret bar. They even have a swimming pool at their disposal, the lucky beggars.

But it soon becomes apparent that their provisions will at some point run out: they need to start thinking of a more long-term survival plan. This seems futile until Tom picks up a transmission on a walkie-talkie, signifying life – and possibly salvation – just a short journey away. All they need to do is get out of the casino, brave the undead outside and get to the presumed safety of Ramsey (Lance Reddick) and his military men …

Well, the scenario is hardly an original one. From the start, there are heavy echoes of DAWN OF THE DEAD, FEAST, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, 28 DAYS LATER, THE MIST … Consequently, going in to this, I did struggle against the apathy that comes with the feeling of déjà vu. But the promise of this being based on a graphic novel – Steve Niles’, no less, whose aforementioned "30 Days of Night" was adapted to the screen with considerable skill – perhaps had me cautiously hopeful.

However, the over-familiarity of the premise and its subsequent execution far outweigh the occasional bursts of director Colin Theys’ creative energy and moments of welcome, offbeat humour amongst the grue.

The cast are generally okay (as good as you can expect from a $750,000 genre film that blows most of its budget on the FX) but the graphic novel origins of the screenplay do dictate that each is a crude caricature, the likes of which doesn’t require much more than chiselled features and a buff body. John Doolan’s script delivers some corny macho one-liners and yet is at times wryly observant when considering the protagonists’ predicament and how they react to it (after surviving a zombie attack, one character is ordered to shower to remove the grisly traces of their trials; Tori amuses herself by flicking her cigarettes at an elderly zombie).

For the most part though, the screenplay is a slave to convention – although the zombies do get up to some novel things: sleeping on their feet, for example …

The gore comes in waves but is mostly of the aftermath variety. There are lots of scenes of feasting on flesh, and the number of extras drafted in as zombies is impressive. The zombie make-up is very reminiscent of that in the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. The muscular male cast, siege situation and action movie-type score further evoke that film: if you don’t like that, you’d be best served by avoiding this.

This isn’t anywhere near as punchy as the film adaptation of Niles’ celebrated 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, despite boasting a not-too-dissimilar set-up. A big part of the problem is that the characters aren’t likeable and therefore the regular set-piece scenes, though stylishly executed, fail to raise tension. The other big problem is that, whereas NIGHT offered a fresh slant on the vampire myth, REMAINS plays straight into the rules of the already over-crowded living dead genre. THEY CAME BACK it is not.

Metrodome provided a DVD-R screener disc for review. It offered REMAINS in a healthy uncut presentation, preserving the film’s original widescreen ratio and enhancing it for 16x9 television sets. Images were sharp but never overly enhanced; atmosphere was dense thanks to a great deal of detail, controlled contrast and depth.

Likewise, the English 2.0 audio track provided a reliable, problem-free playback.

There were no extras or even menus on the disc made available for review; I’ve been as yet unable to ascertain what Metrodome’s retail disc may proffer.

REMAINS has not "redefined zombie horror for the 21st Century" as the DVD’s back cover suggests. Rather, it plays safely to the tune of virtually every Romero-influenced zombie film you’ve ever seen. Minor quirks such as zombies getting so hungry that they attempt to feed on themselves don’t count for originality when the rest of the action is so bound by convention. And it doesn’t help that, despite stylish photography and impressive FX, the TV-savvy cast (members of "Heroes", "The Wire" and "True Blood" are among the onscreen faces) are brainless beauties who can’t breathe interest into their one-dimensional characters.

Note that although the film is presently only scheduled for a DVD release in the UK, it is also due out on US blu-ray in August 2012.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Metrodome Distribution
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review