Dirs. Luca Boni and Marco Ristori
Another month, another zombie flick; Eaters: Rise of the Dead follows the tried, tested and arguably tired formula of pitching a small band of post virus-induced global apocalypse survivors against the marauding undead. Somewhat typically, it opens with a montage of news footage documenting the spread of a mysterious virus, a zero birth rate, the threat of nuclear intervention from governments and the fall of civilisation as we know it. When we pick up with the main characters Alen and Igor (Guglielmo Favilla and Alex Lucchesi), post apocalypse is full-steam ahead. They are two of a number of survivors hiding out in an abandoned building outside the city. Shades of Romero’s Day of the Dead echo through these scenes as the group; largely made up of military men, tussle with boredom and fatigue, while a shady scientist searches for a solution.
In terms of the zombie movie, Italy really jumped on the band wagon after George Romero’s seminal classic, Dawn of the Dead. Lucio Fulci, I'm looking at you, kiddo. Lately however, all has been quiet on the Italian horror front, save a number of independent titles and the work of Dario Argento. With other European offerings of the 'living dead' movie coming thick and fast in the wake of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, such as last year’s Rammbock and La Horde coming out of Germany and France, respectively, Italian cinema has been slow on the up-take. Eaters took a while to get here (thanks to the lack of support its makers received in their native country) and it sets itself apart from the rest of the slathering zombie movie pack with a dark subtext reflecting on the destructive nature of Fascist regimes. A subplot involving a mad scientist experimenting on the living dead in an attempt to create a new ‘master race’ draws uneasy parallels with the Nazi regime and adds more intriguing subtext to the mix. Indeed, the protagonists face off against a Neo Nazi group who have declared themselves a New Death Militia. A telling scene also depicts several zombies in a cage, mindlessly pacified by a TV and the fleshy scraps they are thrown by their captors. These are but several ideas contemplated by the movie, but which ultimately remained unexplored.
The bulk of the narrative consists of Alen and Igor setting out to retrieve living corpses for the scientist to experiment on. We follow them as they make increasingly pointless excursions, giving Boni and Ristori a chance to introduce us to a plethora of crazed characters, including the aforementioned Neo Nazi Death Militia, a mysterious young girl and a reclusive painter dubbed Caravaggio, who trades them beer in exchange for body parts to paint. This scene provides a sly reminder of the Italian cinematic legacy of the artistic rendering of death and violence.
The pace and tone of Eaters shifts between ultra-violent and gory encounters with zombies and often tedious scenes of Alen and Igor in their car. Flashbacks which pad out the story of a female scientist (Rosella Elmi) whose fertility experiments may have enhanced the onslaught of the zombie apocalypse, and a subplot involving the intriguingly named the 'Plague Spreader' fail in their pay-off. The momentum of the story lurches about as much as the shuffling undead depicted within it, and by the time it picks up in the third act, it might be too late for some viewers. While there are some interesting ideas scuttling about beneath the video-game violence and macho-deliberating, and the directors exhibit daring ambition, Eaters still doesn’t muster enough interest or momentum to make it even as remotely compelling as it could have been. Having said that, credit must go to the directors for having the guts (pardon the pun!) to see their vision through against all the odds, the least of which being such a low budget. It is also fantastic to see Italian filmmakers producing genre pictures again – especially given the country’s rich history of genre cinema and the sorry state their film industry has fallen into today, when even ‘Masters’ such as Argento find it difficult to find funding for their work.
Credit must also go to Uwe Boll (calm down, I never thought I’d type those words either), who helped the project get off the ground by promising to distribute it. His own work may be a joke amongst some circles, but thanks to him, the talents of Luca Boni and Marco Ristori will hopefully now be set on a course that will enable them to make more movies in future and hone their craft; for while Eaters didn’t particularly float my boat, there’s no denying the passion and energy they poured into this long running labour of love. Boll helped them out when their own film industry turned away in snobbish distain. Yes, it’s the same industry that forced Argento to turn to the States in order to get Giallo off the ground. And look how that ended up (production company ‘neglecting’ to pay actors and so on). Hopefully the new generation of genre filmmakers emerging from Italy will help it scrape back at least some of the glory it used to laud over pretty much everywhere else when it came to such films.
The special features on Eaters: Rise of the Dead include a 30 minute ‘making of’ documentary, a VFX breakdown - a four minute montage comprising comparative shots and scenes in the film before and after VFX were added, all set to a pulsing techno soundtrack – and a trailer. Of these, only the ‘making of’ documentary gives us anything to really chew on. It features behind the scenes footage and interviews with the key cast and crew. It sheds light on how much of a labour of love the low budget Eaters was to its makers, and directors Boni and Ristori candidly discuss everything from the genesis of the story, to how they acquired the help of Uwe Boll to distribute the film, to the difficulties of shooting on a low budget. The main cast chime in with their reflections on the shooting process, and we’re treated to some behind the scenes footage of SFX secrets and a couple of shots that weren’t included in the final cut. It’s all fairly in-depth even though it clocks in at just less than 30 minutes; really helps piece together how hard it is to make genre pictures in Italy today. And whether you like the film or not, credit must go to the directors for having the guts (pardon the pun!) to see their vision through against the odds.