By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Sophie Skelton, Johnathon Schaech and Marcus Vanco
Directed by Hèctor Hernández Vicens
Written by Mark Tonderai and Lars Jacobson
The problem with remaking George A. Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD (other than that it’s a foolish and pointless exercise) is that its core ideas have been imitated and overworked to the point of exhaustion in the ensuing decades. If you’re going to dare to revisit this territory, you’d better have something clever, innovative and/or meaningful to add. The driving story element DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE’s creators came up with is the Bub variant trying to get rapey with the scientist heroine.
BLOODLINE, which hit theaters and VOD yesterday for those who want to pay for the same stuff they can see for free in any given episode of THE WALKING DEAD, is the second shot at a new DAY by Millennium Media and Taurus Entertainment (whose name is misspelled in the credits). Their first was the 2008 DAY OF THE DEAD, and they might have been advised to quit while they were behind. This one hews a tad closer to the basics of Romero’s scenario, but you’ll get the idea that fidelity is not the uppermost concern when fast zombies tear across the screen in the opening minutes.
Since audience attention spans are apparently not to be trusted, DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE opens in the midst of an undead rampage through an unnamed but very Bulgarian-looking American city, before jumping back four hours to show how it got started. Our aforementioned heroine, Zoe (Sophie Skelton, a British actress who nonetheless sounds like she’s trying to hide an Eastern European accent), is a medical school student who proves her brilliance by being the only one among her classmates who can diagnose influenza in a dead body. Good thing for her that this hulking corpse is among the first to come back to hungry life, as it interrupts an attempt by sleazoid patient Max (Johnathon Schaech) to sexually assault Zoe, just before all flesh-ripping hell breaks loose.
Cut to five years later, when the world is overrun by “rotters” and Zoe is part of a band of survivors at a military bunker/refugee camp called High Rock. With pharmaceutical supplies dwindling, Zoe wants to return to the hospital where she was studying to restock, against the wishes of hardass compound commander Miguel (Jeff Gum). Fortunately, Miguel’s brother Baca (Marcus Vanco) is Zoe’s squeeze and accompanies her on a mission to the facility, leading to the 437th sequence of a squad slowly making their way through trash-strewn, abandoned hallways, pointing guns and flashlights ahead of them.
They find the drugs they need, but also Max, now a zombie sporting makeup like Romero’s Bub and a CGI-enhanced, Joker-esque evil grin. Thanks to especially active antibodies in his bloodstream, he’s still somewhat sentient, and hasn’t lost his twisted yen for Zoe. After hitching a ride CAPE FEAR-style back to High Rock, he’s captured, but defended from Miguel and others who want to put him down by Zoe, who believes his plasma holds the key to an anti-zombism vaccine. In other words, DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE’s central conceit is a woman protecting a man who wants to rape her—and if that isn’t icky enough, there’s actually a moment in which Zoe comes on to Max and lets him lick her face so she can get close enough to extract a blood sample.
A story in which Zoe harbored an ex-lover now turned into one of the walking dead could have held dramatic complexity and depth, and honored the themes Romero explored with Bub. The one we get is more off-putting than any of the gore, and everything else about DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE (including that bloodletting, which is sometimes distractingly digital) is strictly and tediously standard-issue. Director Hèctor Hernández Vicens previously made THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ, which I didn’t see but a lot of people liked, though here he seems just a gun for hire, unable to bring any distinctive or original style to the tired, awkward scenario.
Schaech, in his second villainous turn in a misconceived horror reboot after 2008’s PROM NIGHT, has little opportunity to bring shading to the singleminded Max; Gum’s Miguel has none of the maniacal fire of Joseph Pilato’s Captain Rhodes in Romero’s DAY; and the lead roles are so colorless that Skelton and Vanco can’t get us to care if the ghouls bite Zoe or chew Baca. (Sorry.) Please, let this be the last “reimagining” of the DEAD series…or if there has to be another one, how about a movie in which a legendary director returns from the grave to avenge himself on those who tarnish his legacy?