By Ravina Rawal
Hey, remember Luke Kenny? The VJ from Channel [V]? That guy from Rock On? Good. Now remember the first film he ever directed, 13th Floor? No? Ok, well nevermind. He’s made another one: Rise of the Zombie. You probably won’t remember this either in a few days, but no matter; this man has set up his own production house, Kenny Films, so I suspect there’s plenty more self-indulgence where this came from.
Wildlife photographer Neil Parker (Kenny) has a fight with his girlfriend Vinny Rao (Kirti Kulhari) and takes off alone to the mountains around Lansdowne in Uttarakhand, with his camera. He pitches a tent in the middle of nowhere and walks around on his own, smiling hard, exclaiming “Cheers, Mother Nature!” every couple of minutes, and taking lots of macro-shots of lots of insects. Suddenly there’s an ominous buzzing, a slap on the arm and a bloody mess where a bug has clearly bitten him. Is this of any significance? Might he turn into… Spiderman? Spoiler alert: Worse.
Suddenly, almost every night is a full moon night (and you thought these were reserved for werewolves). Neil is plagued by nightmares with hazy flashbacks from his past, mostly featuring his currently estranged girlfriend. This girlfriend, by the way, never ever answers her phone. He keeps trying to call her when he pops into town, from public phone booths and borrowed mobiles, but it always goes straight to voicemail.
Meanwhile, the bite that starts off looking like a red boil slowly becomes a bloody wound that refuses to heal and spreads, taking over Neil’s entire arm. The rancid arm is only the beginning of Neil’s slow transformation into a zombie, which is based on a theory of their origin that is much less popular than the ones that describe them as corpses brought back to life through some form of mysticism.
Of course one can’t help but wonder why the hell he won’t just show himself to a doctor or check into a hospital, given the frequency with which he visits restaurants and public phone booths, but anyway.
An increasingly pale Neil soon ditches his paranthas (this is all he eats for the first of the film, by the way) for ants and lizards and bugs — newbie zombie cravings, no doubt, but when he starts eating just anything that he comes across, birds, mites, larvae — I get less forgiving: is he a zombie, or just a pig? Yes, these automatons are known to eat a lot, but it’s always mealtime for this guy! Also: must we watch the same thing over and over? He eventually writhes and screams and eats people too, going for their neck much like a good old vampire, but I suppose he’ll refine his technique over time.
Back home, his friend Anish (Ashwin Mushran), neurosurgeon father Dr Dave Parker (Benjamin Gilani) and Vinny are worried — mostly because they have such little screen time, but also because none of them have heard from Neil in 13 days now. Anish can’t go look for him because he’s getting married, so Vinny has to go alone.
And then... well, that’s it. The first of a promised trilogy, Rise of the Zombie looks at just this transformation from man to undead beast, setting things up for the second in the series, Land of the Zombie, releasing in 2014.
Not like we’re dying to see what happens next or anything. To be honest, Rise of the Zombie is basically pretty boring. And I’m disappointed because I love zombies. They’re awesome. They’re the living dead. They walk around all awkward and out of control, eating human flesh and brains and stuff. And I was quite keen on them shuffling into a genre that has, in India, been crowded for decades with afterlife melodrama, beating possessed people with brooms, women in white saris and Kangana Ranaut.
Ghosts and spirits are familiar to us in India because of all our folklore and gazillion religious beliefs. That directors Luke Kenny and Devaki Singh decided to take the subtle route to introduce us to a different kind of reincarnation, and even bother with trying to explore how zombies might have originated in the first place, is something we can appreciate. But they get so caught up in trying to get an international look-feel (check), and being cool (um), that they fail to engage the audience enough.
The camera work is cool, low lit and shaky, with bits reminiscent of Blair Witch Project and full credit to the make-up artists who make us want to throw up our popcorn when the gory bits of the movie begin. But I’m afraid there isn’t much more. The supporting cast barely has any role to play, and Luke Kenny’s average performance gets monotonous really quickly.
However, with this movie begins the rise of the zombie in Bollywood. The upcoming zomcom Go, Goa, Gone (releasing next month), starring Saif Ali Khan and Vir Das, probably doesn’t have any brains, but they may have got it right anyway. They seem to have recognised and accepted that there’s no way they’re going to be able to pull off zombies seriously, so they’ve made a comedy of it instead. Its laugh out loud trailer looks very promising indeed — I suggest waiting it out for that one.