An interesting theme (which, coincidentally, is one of the underlying themes of TRUST) is how hard it is for an individual to hold on to their own beliefs in the face of massive opposition from everyone else. Today’s Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club selection is about just that. In TRUST, Tom Winter remains unsure about the aliens whilst everyone else seems intent on welcoming them with open arms. In TAKE SHELTER, Curtis (played by the excellent Michael Shannon), is convinced the world’s about to end. The bottom line is simple and stark: he’s either right or he’s insane.
Curtis is an ordinary man who works hard for the family he dotes over. He has a wife and a very young, profoundly deaf daughter, and he’s a well-respected member of the tight-knit local community. But he also has a problem. He is experiencing apocalyptic visions of increasing severity with increasing regularity. As the visions continue, he begins to question his sanity. And as he struggles to maintain his grip on reality – building a shelter, stocking up on food etc. – his behaviour becomes an increasing concern to all those around him.
I thoroughly enjoyed TAKE SHELTER. It’s a very well made and acted film (particular kudos to writer/director Jeff Nicholls), and key to its success is the fact that no one – Curtis, the people who love him, the audience watching – knows if he’s right or wrong until the last scene. Special effects are used sparingly and to good effect, and the central uncertainty gives the film a sense of real unease which grows by the minute. Put yourself in his shoes… you love your family more than anything else in the world and you’d do absolutely anything to protect them. If you thought there was even the slightest chance that Armageddon was looming on the horizon, could you just sit back and do nothing?
Here’s the trailer. Grab a copy of the film and find out for yourself if Curtis is right or if he’s got it very, very wrong.
I’ve long tried to understand my fascination with the end of the world. One reason is undoubtedly down to my habit of ‘people watching’ (which isn’t as voyeuristic as it sounds!). Putting characters in extreme situations – and you can’t get more extreme than the end of everything – is a wonderful way of stripping away all pretence and social niceties to expose the black and white reality of what we need to do to survive. When someone’s faced with a yes or no, sink or swim, fight or flight decision in order to stay alive, their behaviour is likely to be a lot more honest and direct than if they’re concerned about what the neighbours are thinking.
Another aspect of Armageddon which intrigues me is its perpetual closeness. I’m guessing that everything probably went okay for you yesterday and so far today, but what about tomorrow? I’m conscious that I sound like a miserable pessimist here and I apologise because I’m not, but the fact remains: anything could happen in the next five minutes. That’s a frightening prospect in itself, but it’s made even more terrifying when you consider how complex and fragile an ecosystem we all inhabit. At any moment something which is completely out of our control might trigger a chain reaction which could drastically alter our individual lives and the lives of those around us. It’s sobering stuff if you think about it (which I do… far too often and in far too much detail!).
Today’s recommendation for my Post-Apocalyptic movie club is a BBC faux-documentary from 2003 which demonstrates just that: The Day Britain Stopped.
The zombie community was shocked back in December 2009 when Z A Recht – author of Plague of the Dead and its sequel Thunder and Ashes – passed away unexpectedly. I’d only been corresponding with Z a week or so earlier, and his death shook me to the core. I was really pleased, therefore, when Permuted Press and author Thom Brannan completed the final book in the series – SURVIVORS – using the notes and drafts Z had left behind. When they asked me to provide a blurb, I didn’t hesitate. I said: “Taut and thrilling… brutal and unforgiving… Zombie fans will love this book”, and I stand by those comments. Here’s the back copy:
“THE MORNINGSTAR STRAIN WAS THE END OF THE WORLD.
In the wake of the zombie apocalypse, two separate bands of survivors journey across a decimated America, each with the desperate goal of finding the cure for the virulent plague that threatens the existence of humankind—or what’s left of it. Now it’s up to these inheritors of the future to outlive their waking nightmare, any way they can.
BUT FOR THESE SURVIVORS, IT IS JUST THE BEGINNING.
One group includes a brilliant virologist; for the other, an immune soldier proves invaluable. Battling infected and marauding raiders at every turn, the teams soon uncover the devious plans of Sawyer, an agent of the Chairman of the Reunited States of America, who believes that Dr. Anna Demilio already has the cure, and he will stop at nothing to find her. Now, with the salvation of the world and their own souls on the line, how far will the survivors go to emerge victorious?”
It’s a long weekend here – an extended holiday which the country probably can’t afford, in honour of something many people seem to be quite indifferent about. I thought now would be a good opportunity to recommend another film for my Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club.
Steven Soderburgh’s CONTAGION was released last year, and I was hopeful we’d finally see a decent big-budget pandemic movie. Though it was critically well received, I didn’t like the film at all. To my mind it was as unsatisfying as 1995’s OUTBREAK, but this time with Gwyneth Paltrow as the Aids Monkey (with thanks for that quote to whoever designed the ‘honest’ Contagion movie poster I’ve used here).
My problem, I think, is that I don’t like any disaster/pandemic movie with a well known cast, and Contagion had a stack of them. If I’m watching a film about the end of civilization, then the end of civilization is what I want to see. I want unknowns and people who look like you and me, not a host of overpaid, airbrushed celebrities. Witness (only if you absolutely have to) 2007’s I am Legend with Will Smith to show how even the most beautiful of post-apocalyptic scenarios can be fucked up by such casting decisions.
So my recommended movie today is definitely not Contagion. Instead, it’s a little-known Japanese-American film: VIRUS (Fukkatsu no hi). It does have a number of well known faces in it, but it was made in 1980, when the term ‘celebrity’ didn’t seem to have quite the same connotations it does today. It’s a crazy film, and here’s a trailer. Click the link below to learn more.
“The mystery virus struck down millions. Three days later, its victims awoke with a single violent purpose: spread the Infection. As the world lurched toward the apocalypse, some of the Infected continued to change, transforming into horrific monsters.
America’s far-flung military has returned home to war against its own country, engaged in a fierce battle to retake Washington, DC. Two hundred miles away, Ray Young, survivor of a fight to save a refugee camp from hordes of Infected fleeing the burning ruins of Pittsburgh, awakes from a coma to learn he has also survived Infection.
But this is no miracle. Ray is not immune. Instead, he has been transformed into a superweapon that could end the world … or save it.”
I enjoyed Craig’s monster-filled spin on the zombie apocalypse very much. Here’s my take: “a unique and startling vision of Armageddon … DiLouie takes the nightmare of THE INFECTION and ratchets up the horror to another level … It’s an excellent post-apocalyptic tale filled with horrific creatures and desperate people. He weaves the threads of his story expertly, managing to show the devastating cost of the crisis on both a human level and a global scale. Recommended!”
A while back I was sent a copy of a new zombie novel to blurb. Nothing unusual about that you might think, but when I looked into the history of the book and its author, I immediately wanted to know more. You see, THE RETURN MAN by V M Zito had very similar beginnings to AUTUMN.
Zito had been dabbling in short fiction writing for some time, but when it came to writing his first novel, he didn’t want to risk shutting himself away in isolation: “I knew I’d go mad in a vacuum of space and time if I locked myself in my office for a year, working on a single project. I was nervous about going so long without a sense of completion, or feedback, or knowing if I was on the right or wrong track. Posting chapters online, one at a time, was a great way around that dilemma; the feedback and support I received from online readers kept me motivated and engaged in the writing process. I think I’ve grown from the experience, and writing a second novel the “traditional way” would be possible for me now – but I’m pretty sure this first one would still be a draft on my desktop if I hadn’t gone online.” Those words certainly rang a few bells with me!
THE RETURN MAN is a novel I thoroughly enjoyed. Here’s the blurb:
“The outbreak tore the USA in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead to deliver peace.
Now Homeland Security wants Marco, for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.
But in the wastelands of America, you never know who – or what – is watching you . . .”
I talked to Zito about the book and his influences. Watch the trailer, then click the link below to read more.
Last December I recommended OUTPOST – Adam Baker’s Arctic-set thriller. Today I present the prequel: JUGGERNAUT. I’m pleased to report that Adam’s written another cracker here. It’s the fast-paced, sun-scorched story of the genesis of the disease which has destroyed the world in Outpost, all set against the beautifully rendered backdrop of war-torn Iraq.
“Iraq 2005 – Seven mercenaries journey deep into the desert in search of Saddam’s gold. They form an unlikely crew of battle-scarred privateers, killers and thieves, veterans of a dozen war zones, each of them anxious to make one last score before their luck runs out.They will soon find themselves marooned among ancient ruins, caught in a desperate battle for their lives, confronted by greed, betrayal, and an army that won’t stay dead…”
Great characters, an amazing level of detail, an insane yet wholly believable plot – Juggernaut is an excellent read, full of grotesque images and unexpected revelations.
My good friend Wayne Simmons is back with the sequel to his hugely successful book FLU – FEVER. Here’s the blurb:
“A deadly strain of flu has mysteriously mutated, causing the deaths of millions throughout Ireland and beyond. But the infected don’t stay dead for long, rising up to become flesh-eating monsters.
In a quarantined lab just outside Belfast, lab worker Ellis and security guard Abe fight their way through corridors of the living dead, determined to expose a gruesome truth.
Ageing conspiracy theorist Tom wracks his brain to figure out what went wrong.
Meanwhile, a young child and her two unlikely wards find themselves in the middle of a cat and mouse game involving the remains of the military, a covert government department and the ever increasing throng of dead. The fate of humanity lies in their hands.”
I enjoyed FEVER a huge amount, perhaps even more than I did FLU. It takes a fresh approach to some tried and tested zombie horror themes and it dovetails beautifully into the first book, acting both as a sequel and prequel and terrifically broadening the overall story. As always, the book is populated by a disparate cast of survivors (and victims!) and the book rattles along at a frantic pace, never outstaying its welcome.
I took the opportunity to ask Wayne about FEVER, and how things have changed for him following the huge success of FLU.
Matthew J. Costello’s VACATION is an interesting spin on the traditional zombie story. In the aftermath of devastating food shortages around the world, groups of humans become predatory, cannibalistic creatures. Elsewhere, life goes on after a fashion. After a near-death experience, an NYPD cop takes his family on a much needed vacation to an idyllic compound paradise where they’re free to roam in the open air and swim and play and live life like they used to. Of course, things don’t go according to plan…
“In the near future after a global crisis causes crops to fail and species to disappear… something even more deadly happens. Groups of humans around the world suddenly become predators, feeding off their own kind. These “Can Heads” grow to such a threat that fences, gated compounds, and SWAT-style police protection become absolutely necessary in order to live.
After one Can Head attack leaves NYPD cop Jack Murphy wounded, Jack takes his wife and kids on a much-needed vacation. Far up north, to a camp where families can still swim and take boats out on a lake, and pretend that the world isn’t going to hell.
But the Can Heads are never far away, and nothing is quite what it seems in Paterville…”
I had a lot of fun reading VACATION. A fairly standard zombie set-up is given a new lease of life in unusual settings.
I said: “Costello takes a typical family and throws them headfirst into a situation that’s anything but. What would you do to protect those you love at the end of the world? A thrilling, fast-paced story of priorities, secrets, and survival.” And I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…
Here’s another book recommendation which I intended to make when it was released last year: Iain McKinnon’s REMAINS OF THE DEAD.
I love the concept of parallel sequels, and on this occasion McKinnon tells a story which starts at the same point as his previous novel DOMAIN OF THE DEAD, then shoots off in a completely different direction. And it’s all the better for it.
“The world is dead, devoured by a plague of reanimated corpses.
Cahz and his squad of veteran soldiers are tasked with flying into abandoned cities and retrieving zombies for scientific study. Deep in infected territory, hundreds of miles from their support vessel, the ever present dangers weigh heavily on Cahz’s mind as he shepherds his team to make quick, clean extractions.
Then the unbelievable happens. After years of encountering nothing but the undead, the team discovers a handful of disheveled survivors in a fortified warehouse with dwindling supplies.
Surrounded by hordes of ravenous corpses, Cahz is faced with the terrible responsibility of determining the five passengers who will escape in the helicopter. While those left stranded must continue to fight off the infected and starvation long enough to be rescued.”
I enjoyed this book a huge amount, and relished the glee with which McKinnon leads us and his survivors through the dead world. As I said at the time: “Believable characters trapped in a nightmare scenario—REMAINS OF THE DEAD is a breathless, high-octane zombie thriller. [McKinnon has] written another great book here…”