M.L. Miller here! Welcome horror fans to my Annual countdown of the Best of the Best in Horror! Running every day through October, this list will culminate with the best horror film of the year announced on October 31st. Some of these films can be found in theaters—others have unfortunately only seen the light of day On Demand, DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films yourselves. I’ll also provide a “Worth Noting” secondary film suggestion in a separate post. These are films that stood out or just missed being on the list by a skosh—a little extra for those who can’t get enough horror.
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st 2018 and September 30, 2019 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number, 31. This countdown is not for the elitists or festival goers, so if the film hasn’t been released to the masses, it won’t be on the list. Also anything released this October will most likely be on next year’s list—so sorry, no films like DOCTOR SLEEP or ZOMBIELAND 2 just yet.
I hope you’ll join me daily and don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
One of the most surprising films I’ve checked out this year was ZOO, a fresh twist on the zombie genre. It’s actually a relationship film about two people headed for divorce trapped in one location alone together during the zombie apocalypse. Think you’ve seen all of the zombie riffs out there. I guarantee you haven’t seen anything like ZOO! Released on April 5, 2019, here’s my review of ZOO! Available On Demand and digital download from The Orchard!
Directed by Antonio Tublen
Written by Antonio Tublen
Starring Zoë Tapper, Ed Speleers, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Jan Bijvoet, Lukas Loughran, Klaus Hjuler, Danny Thykær, Patrik Karlson, Robin Gott, Thomas Chaanhing, Per Löfberg, Ida Gyllensten, Fredric Ollerstam
Antonio Tublen, who came to my attention with the low fi sci fi evil mastermind film LFO, is back with an original take on an old premise. It takes a lot to get me to notice a zombie film anymore, but ZOO definitely delivers the undead mayhem in an original fashion in ZOO, formerly DEATH DO US PART—a title I think is much more apropos.
Karen (Zoë Tapper) and John (DOWNTON ABBEY’s Ed Speleers) are a not so happy couple heading towards divorce. After their first child was stillborn, their lives drifted apart as John threw his focus into work and Karen sat at home in a deep depression. On the night Karen decides she wants to file for divorce, a zombie outbreak occurs in the streets below their large apartment. Now barricaded in the apartment, the troubled couple must learn to live with one another and possibly piece their relationship together while the world falls apart around them.
OK, ZOO isn’t a gore fest. It’s not an action-packed run for your lives type film either. It’s basically about a couple trying to make their relationship work while facing adversity from all angles. For those people who love the ‘splosions and gore splashing all over the lens, you’re going to find this one rather sappy and sometimes boring with all of the relationship talk. If you’re the type who doesn’t like the people part of horror films, then shamble on to the next zombie actioner that will most likely be released five minutes from now.
The thing is, ZOO actually makes things interesting by showcasing two very talented actors in Tapper and Speleers. These two attractive and talented actors make you want to believe in their relationship and the possibility that they can fix it. Both are flawed in large ways; John is oblivious to the crumbling relationship and Karen is selfish and guilt ridden. Neither talk to one another nor even make the attempt to reconcile after their tragic loss. It’s an everyday predicament people can relate to and really provides an “in” to this film as it is so relatable. Now toss this problem into the middle of a bigger problem like zombie Armageddon and you’ve got something bigger than the relationship problems to deal with. Turns out the zombies provide the couple an excuse to reveal some deep, dark secrets to one another and really makes them see each other in a different light. In the end, I bought this relationship and was rooting for them to survive this horrific pickle they found themselves in.
The film also is smart in that it doesn’t waste time showing us scenes we have seen in millions of other zombie films. We hear the carnage happening outside and occasionally get a peek down onto the street or down the hallway, but for the most part, everything happens within this apartment. While this definitely is a signal for a small budget, the strong performances, manic pace, and wonderful writing prevented me from noticing it until the very end. Tublen does a fantastic sleight of hand keeping our attention on the couple inside and only using the zombies outside as a slow pressure cooker rising in temperature and creeping in at a snail’s pace.
All of this relationship talk doesn’t mean that there is no action or gore. When things get intense, they really get intense. There are some meaty deaths here and the stakes are higher because Tublen allowed us so much time in getting to know John and Karen. I was actually surprised where this film went as it really does upend itself and deliver on a lot of gloppy gross action by the end, so if you stick with this one, there is a zombie payoff.
This is a zombie film that you can watch with someone you love. Or someone you once loved. Or someone you hate. It’s the horror of relationships set in the post apocalypse, where you never know if it’s going to be a ghoul or your significant other that will be the one who ends you. Tapper and Speleers are great as the leads, filled with all kinds of good and bad points that make them human. THE CANAL’s Antonia Campbell-Hughes and BORGMAN’s Jan Bijvoet are fantastic as a couple who are unlucky enough to get in the way of John and Karen. The effects are minimal, but when they come, it’s going to shock you.
I don’t mind a good relationship drama as long as it’s well acted and well produced. Even without the zombies, this would be a movie to root for. The zombies just make ZOO one of those little surprises that crosses genres and gets away with it. If you’re ready to make a split with zombie films, give ZOO a shot. It might just reawaken that long lost love you had for the genre.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#14 – ZOO
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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