Back in February 2010 I stumbled upon the trailer for a new zombie movie I hadn’t come across before: PORTRAIT OF A ZOMBIE. I was so taken by the short clip that I posted it on this site and I also got in touch with the director, Bing Bailey. We spoke on and off over the years but it wasn’t until recently that I finally managed to watch the movie. I was browsing around Lovefilm one night, looking for a horror movie to watch which a). wasn’t crap, or b). I hadn’t seen a hundred times already, and there it was, right at the top of the list, just begging to be streamed.
And man, I’m glad I watched it. POAZ (as I’ll call it from here on in to save typing) was a real treat that I’m happy to recommend as part of my Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club. So please watch the trailer below, then click the link for my thoughts and a few words from Bing Bailey.
I’ll say at the outset: POAZ isn’t going to be to everybody’s taste. It’s a very original film – a curious hybrid of a number of horror movie staples. In the mix you have straight-up horror scares, traditional zombie tropes, elements of found-footage, and a healthy dollop of dysfunctional family drama. The strangest thing is, for the most part it really works. I asked Bing how difficult it was to fuse all these different elements and maintain a cohesive story. He told me “anything time you try to fuse all those elements you’re on a tightrope and you run the risk of not pleasing someone. Some people think the film isn’t gory enough. Some don’t get the humour. You have to care about characters before bad things happen… I think for the most part we succeeded in telling a singular story with all those elements. I did not want to just do a generic retread of what was already out there.”
The film focuses on a working class family from Dublin, caught up in a strangely muted, lo-fi zombie invasion… the living dead are out there, but people seem to be unusually nonchalant about the dangers. When son Billy becomes infected, the family choses to take care of him, much to the annoyance of pretty much everyone else (not least the neighbours and the local crime boss). An American documentary crew arrive to film their situation, the family hoping that with their help they can prove blood is thicker than water…
I asked Bing where the inspiration for the film came from. A native of Dublin who moved to New York in 1999, he told me that it “came from my love of the original Romero zombie films. I felt that modern zombie films were entertaining, sure, but had very little to say. I wanted to do what George did and have a film that had an opinion, had social commentary and satire, but still entertained. I wanted it to be funny with dark humor but also have heart. I was influenced to make it documentary style by films like Man Bites Dog and taking the style of humour from films like The Snapper and The Commitments. The film is not a documentary, it’s a film about a documentary being made that is never completed. Given we had such a low budget we relied on telling a compelling story over just pretty visuals.”
Bing said he’s been pleased by the positive reactions to the film from a wide range of people, attributing that to the strength of his actors and the characters they portray. There’s someone for everyone to identify with here: parents, siblings, criminals, priests, neighbours, the documentary film-makers… He wanted “to hit home how terrible life can be for a family trying to do the right thing in the face of opposition from everyone in society.”
So what’s next for Mr Bailey? “I worked on the 68th floor of the WTC and only missed being there (on 9/11) because of jet lag. That changed my whole perspective on life. I decided I was going to just take risks and try the things I wanted to do. I made my first feature in Canada in 2005, made shorts and music videos and a TV pilot leading to POAZ which I started in 2009 and completed in 2012. I think I have at least another two good zombie films left in me. The next film will be more of a creature feature fused with the supernatural set in an eastern European hospital called ‘The Donor’.”
As I said, POAZ won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It’s an unusual film that takes a very different approach to many other zombie movies. I enjoyed it a lot, and I definitely recommend you check it out. The official site is here and you can follow the movie on Facebook here. UK folks can stream the film on Lovefilm or get it on DVD. Those in the US will get to see the movie in 2014 – release dates are due to be announced shortly. The film’s also available on DVD in Germany and Japan.