Review: Multi-award winning Michigan-made zombie flick ‘Thaw of the Dead’ leaves this reviewer cold

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Preface:  I am not a zombie fan.  As such, it may be asked, am I the right one to review a zombie movie being so disposed?

The reason why can be summed up by saying that since the release of the very first zombie movie, “White Zombie (1932)”, the American pre-Code horror film independently produced by Edward Halperin and directed by Victor Halperin,  really nothing new has been offered in this genre.

The constraints that define the zombie genre have become time-worn cliches.  This includes everything from the (too- often-times) poor make-up jobs, to the disheveled (often ragged) costumes, to the lumbering walking of the extras in the cast. What of the feeding of the dead?  Why do the living-dead engage in cannibalism?  Being dead, how hungry can they be? Why don’t they eat each other? Also, in every movie there are people who work to kill the dead. Isn’t this a contradiction? Aren’t zombies already dead?

Now there is one difference.  Recently, there has emerged a new wrinkle in this old trope., something about the apocalypse bringing these creatures back to life. It used to be lightning striking a cemetery. Now you have zombies amid the smoldering trash heaps and last vestiges of humanity.

Before you view a zombie movie you know what to expect.  They are all the same.  For this reason,  I have never been a “Walking Dead” fan.  After the first couple of episodes-yawn- I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. And I don’t  find “Shaun of the Dead,” nor Sam Raimi’s “Ash vs Evil Dead” with Bruce Campbell,  nor “Zombieland” with Woody Harrelson particularly funny. They are the same old trope reworked  Rather than kicking myself later for wasting precious hours watching this drek,  I simply pass when offered a chance to watch a zombie movie.

Having said that I had to watch the Michigan-made addition to this body-of-work.  I know it wasn’t a first Michigan-made zombie film, and likely would not be the last. But how disappointed could I be? After all,  it was made by people that I know personally and starred people that I know well.

This zombie flick was the recipient of  Best Feature at The Terror Festival 2017, winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Royal Starr Film Festival 2017 and winner of Best Cinematography and  Editing at The Eclipse Awards 2018.  These were reasons enough to work my way through what I knew at best was a micro-budgeted feature.  Would it offer anything new?

“Drill, baby. Drill” was the most haunting three-word phrase coined as a campaign slogan.  Used by Michael Steele during an address to the 2008 Republican National Convention as he called for increasing domestic production of oil and gas, little did anyone know that this call would be answered through fracking, and less was known at the time of the dangers of this form of gas and oil extraction.

Since then hydro-fracking, or fracking for short,  has been found to be the number one biggest contributor of methane pollution and climate change in the world today; it has proven to use large volumes of water in water-deficient regions and contribute to groundwater contamination ; and has caused fracking-induced earthquakes  wherever this technique is employed,  not to mention the health-related effects attributable to exposure to the chemicals used.  But can fracking hasten a post apocalyptic world complete with living dead?

When “Thaw of the Dead” opens you can hear that three word phrase parroted by a caller on an open-line phone call on a radio talk show. This is what this low-budget zombie thriller asks you to believe. It draws a link between the raping and pillaging of Mother Earth in a quickly morphing collage of scenes and colors and builds a bridge to a landscape populated by creepy crawlies.

Isolated in the frigid Northern Michigan back-country, filmed almost entirely in Traverse City, Michigan, a waning group of survivors must make difficult decisions that tests their mettle and call upon their individual life-survival skills.  Finding refuge in an abandoned dam, starved, weary, and cold, the group awaits the coming spring for the opportunity to search nearby towns for supplies.

When the group decides to draw straws to determine who would give up their life to feed the other members, one of the males sets into the nightmarish hell out on the bitter river, past desolate and abandoned buildings which dot the shoreline in an imposing order, through wasted towns to a small coastal community – their last, best hope. The life of this friend and the group’s humanity hang in the balance as he tears across a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of needed supplies,  food and medicines that will prolong this group’s lives

But time is important. As he races across the icy water under the lurking remnants of humanity,  the people at the dam are prepping Mary, doing everything short of tying her ankles together and piercing her breast with a plastic pop-up thermometer. He must get back before they bar-be-que her, or roast her carcass on a rotisserie.  As warmer weather approaches comes the resurgence of the living dead released from winter’s icy grip.   This is the “Thaw of the Dead.”

With screenplay and direction by David Marek , and co-story and cinematography by Matthew Von Dayton, “Thaw of the Dead”  stars Heather Fairbanks as Mary, Benjamin Busch as Wane Alger, Joseph Shoup as Dan, and Jala Wharton as Missy,  with a cast of others, many of whom appear as lumbering zombies. While these actors all turned in sterling performances,  it was not enough to make a convert of me.

What did I think of this film?  It would have been better had it been a short.  While the cinematography was super, the sets stunning,  the story-line was not a real departure from other zombie movies. At least it was not different enough to really catch my interest.  The story-line,  while depicting what humanity may be like for a group of people,  was not fully developed. and it left more questions unanswered than it answered.

Is this review fair?  Some may argue not. Are people going to resent me for making my ideas known?   Perhaps.  But before you tread into the swampy underbrush which was this review,  you were warned.  Die Zombie, die.  Return to your deep, dark holes.

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2 comments

    1. Well, unless I failed to make myself plain, zombie movies are not my thing. But thank you for your comment.

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