Friday, January 4, 2008

Movie: Evil (To Kako)

One of the best things about zombies is that they need no translation. Eeeerrrgh and yarrrgh, on any continent, usually mean "I am going to eat you now. Mmmm, yummy." So it's with this universality that Greek director Yorgos Noussais brings us Evil (To Kako), a delirious blend of Peter Jackson and Danny Boyle's zombie oeuvre.

Let's face it: the why of zombie movies is usually the least interesting aspect. Rogue comet dust, escape plague of rage, or ancient burial ground curse... it's all academic, really. So after the prologue, set in an underground cave, people get to biting, other people get to running, and various guns, knives, and bludgeons are applied in a splattery, Grand Guignol style. And while there's nothing in Evil that's as outrageous as the famous "I kick ass for the Lord" preacher from Jacksons' Dead Alive, the black humor sprays in copious amounts.

Since I've brought up Dead Alive, I'll admit that I can't help but be slightly disappointed. Essentially, the film is one extended chase sequence, as our ragtag bunch moves from one location to the next, usually to a pounding beat (the apocalyspe will always have techno). But Evil neither has the house-bound claustrophobia that makes the climax of Dead Alive so memorable nor the eerieness that punctuated the empty streets of Boyle's 28 Days Later. Indeed, it's not until the end of the film do we see Athens all deserted -- and by that point, it no longer feels ominous; it feels more like early Sunday morning. The ending manages to be snicker-worthy and downbeat at the same time -- though the soundtrack insists that a rave is going on.

At least the characters have been given some modicum of personality. Argiris Thanasoulas, who plays Argyris, the cabbie-turned-chauffer of the doomed, does a strong job with what's ultimately a sex-obsessed and shallow character. Yet he's nonetheless charming, in a Danny Dyer sort of way, and his farewell shows how much his character holds the film together. Sure, the other characters have a chance to give their various backstories, but this illustrates the problem: they must tell their stories to give a context of their motivations, while Argyris simply embodies who he is. No psychoanalysis necessary.

Moreover, it feels as if Noussais tries to have both the humor and the seriousness, but these sit uneasily with one another. Indeed, there's a fleeting reference to the Greek military coup of 1967, but if the zombies are supposed to have an allegorical meaning, it's lost among the quick cuts and multiple split screens. Instead, Noussais is content to distract us with exploding prosthetics, arterial spray, and lots of shots of people running. It's a zombie marathon! Look, the Kenyans have pulled ahead again.

Still, for what it is, Evil manages to be an engaging thrill ride. I just wish it had more teeth.

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