Zack Snyder discusses how he blended zombie and heist genres in Netflix film Army of the Dead
'Shot the movie before the pandemic. We had no idea that there would be the use of temperature guns and quarantine,' Zack Snyder on film's eerie similarity to the pandemic-afflicted world.
Zack Snyder, the director behind action blockbusters such as 300, Man of Steel and Justice League, says he is drawn towards stories about humanity and its evolution.
The filmmaker, whose latest directorial Army of the Dead is set to hit the streamer Netflix on 21 May, said he likes to tell his stories using mythology as a tool, something that is evident in his filmography, which also includes the 2009 film Watchmen.
"I do have an interest in this kind of mythological sort of storytelling. It's just the thing that has creatively always inspired and sort of struck me," Snyder told PTI in a group interview over Zoom from Los Angeles.
The 55-year-old director said his movies present the story of humanity, "rather than the reality of humanity".
Army of the Dead isn't your run-of-the-mill zombie movie as the filmmaker brings in something new — smart zombies, who are faster and more organised.
Zombies, the undead corpses, are always fascinating because "they're monsters that are actually us", Synder said.
"We're the monster in a zombie movie, humanity. It's like humans without their humanity. And then I thought, ''okay, what's the next level of that?''
"I thought that as an evolutionary step, humans are no longer destroying their environment, they're not killing each other, they are very much not ambitious and they are content within their tribe. I thought that was an interesting evolution because that version could replace them, not necessarily just destroy them," he explained.
In Army of the Dead, Snyder blends two genres — zombie and heist — to once again make a commentary on people.
Headlined by Dave Bautista and also starring Indian actor Huma Qureshi, the film is set after a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, when a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.
The director said the film will appeal to people across age groups and they can have different takeaways from it.
"The movie's sort of custom-made for viewers of all times. If you want to watch the movie and just have fun for two hours, then by all means. If you want to deep dive into mythological aspects, what zombies are pathologically and like how socially they represent us and hold up a mirror to ourselves or all of the different ways that mythological comes through the zombie, that's fine too," he added.
Snyder said the ones who like reading between the lines might find the movie "political".
In the film, the US government builds a wall to contain the zombie outbreak, which is synonymous with how the authorities had planned to tackle Mexican migration in the country.
"If you want to be political and you want to talk about things like the wall and the refugee camps, the whole other part of it, that's also a movie for you. Or if you like the heist part or the father-daughter relationship. So that's what I really wanted the movie to be. I really wanted to speak to viewers in that way," he said.
The movie marks Snyder's return to the genre after he made his directorial debut in 2004 with Dawn of the Dead, which was a remake of George A Romero's 1978 classic of the same name, which satirized rabid consumerism by setting zombies loose in a shopping mall.
"The interpretations are completely different now from when we first started. But the catch-all for zombie movies is still the same: in the end, humans are worse than zombies."
Snyder said he set up Army of the Dead in Las Vegas as he wanted to do a "social commentary" on casino culture, something that Romero did with shopping malls in his original Dawn of the Dead movie.
"Zombie movies are at their best when they're doing some kind of social commentary.
"And I think that as George (Romero) did with shopping malls and mass consumerism in Dawn of the Dead, I think Vegas does a similar job with the way we approach the world of casinos and gambling and things like that."
The filmmaker said he had developed the story for Army of the Dead years ago but couldn't make it into a movie for the longest time.
"It certainly is a return but because I've had it for so long, it feels like it's always been there. I guess it just represents my love of cinema and my love of filmmaking.
"I made it as a way to sort of reconnect with the physical act of filmmaking and in that way, it was really one of the most satisfying experiences I've had making the movie," Snyder said.
It is his first brand-new film since having to walk away from directing the star-studded DC superhero epic Justice League in 2017 following the suicide of his daughter.
Snyder, 55, rewrote the film to centre on the relationship between tough-as-nails father Scott (Dave Bautista) and his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell.)
"As a human being I have evolved from when I made Dawn," he said.
"And just having the relationship I have with my children and being a dad... that part of the movie really became a lot more important to me than maybe it was 15 years ago."
He added: "Dave's character is trying to reconnect with his daughter... yes it's a zombie heist movie, but really in the end it's a character movie in a lot of ways."
Many viewers would find an eerie similarity between the film and the current reality, where people have to quarantine and take adequate precautions owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
But, Snyder said he shot the movie before the virus struck, adding he had no idea that the things he visualised in the film would actually become a reality in the near future.
"We shot the movie before the pandemic. We had no idea that there would be the use of temperature guns and quarantine. We were just making it up and we thought it was fun and crazy. I think that was an interesting thing.
"Also even the politics of it is interesting as you know there are some of the politicians in the movie who have this kind of cavalier, Wild West attitude and some are more conservative, exactly as we kind of have, especially in America. So, it is interesting how you see it all now in retrospect."
"We wanted to focus on how a zombie plague would affect the disenfranchised and how the government might use something like a zombie plague to take away certain freedoms," he added.
But for all its brash, high-octane fun, the movie — a homage to genre films like Escape from New York and Aliens, and heist movies such as Ocean's Eleven-- carries genuine emotional heft for Snyder.
Army of the Dead also features Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera, Garret Dillahunt, Raul Castillo, Omari Hardwick, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, and Matthias Schweighofer.
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