Toronto After Dark Review: War of the Dead
Review by Kayley Viteo
War of the Dead is an ideal film festival movie if for no other reason than Nazi zombies are warmly welcomed by a crowd ready to have fun. In recent years it seems like the zombie subgenre has spawned its own subgenre with Nazi zombies, something I must confess to being quite fond of. Why is simple – it’s always entertaining to watch zombies die, but add in the Nazi factor and there’s a whole new darkly funny and rewarding aspect in being a spectator.
During WWII, a team of soldiers has been sent to destroy a Russian bunker for reasons unknown. It quickly becomes clear to Captain Stone (the American who gets all the one-liners) that what they’re fighting is a dead soldier with super abilities. This is all a long-winded way of saying that this movie is about Nazi zombies, and that’s really all I – and probably you – need to know.
I have a feeling I’m one of the few that enjoyed War of the Dead. Despite sitting with two guys who thought it was terrible and disappointing, I still managed to be greatly entertained. Though filled with narrative inconsistencies and admittedly absurd in ways it doesn’t meant to be, War of the Dead is still amusing. Maybe my perspective is flawed, but my expectations for War of the Dead was “Nazi zombies.” That’s it. Illogical narrative be damned, I had fun.
There are some flaws that bothered even me, however. Most glaringly, the fight sequences are edited in a choppy manner making them hard to follow, at best. This is a shame because I feel like they could’ve been really great. There’s also the issue of the introduction of a female character halfway through, which begins a supremely cliché sub-plot. In the Q&A, the director recognized it being cliché, and while there’s something to be said for self-recognition, this does slow the movie’s fast pace and provides some of the more stupid moments in the dialogue.
It should also be said that I find it very difficult to heavily criticize a film that has been to hell and back trying to get made. Since 2005, War of the Dead has been in production. Only after running out of money twice, cast changes and general bad luck is it finally fit for public consumption (although some would disagree with me there). To that end, and something the director himself noted, there is an expansion of filmmaking style that is evident in the final product. This is both intriguing and problematic – characters are at times confusing, the tone starts slow and dark, evolving into a quick, often comedic film. There’s also the annoying matter of how the last ten minutes devolves into melodramatic slow motion.
So yes, War of the Dead isn’t a great – or even really good – movie. It has small and large issues, but you’ll have a good time if you turn your brain off. If you really want to have your cognitive function impaired, think hard about the fact that James van der Beek was originally cast in the lead role.
War of the Dead was paired with the short You Are So Undead, a great twist on vampirism. Four teenagers in a bar bathroom lament giving up their “virginity,” leading to an interesting revelation for one of the girls. Witty and fun, this is one of my favorite shorts so far at Toronto After Dark.