FrightFest 2012 Review: Cockneys vs Zombies

Posted on August 30, 2012 by Ben

Review by Tristan Bishop

Cockneys vs Zombies screened as the second film of Frightfest 2012, following the grim but stunning The Seasoning House, and what a change of pace and mood that was. Cockneys vs Zombies is a film that very much sells itself on its title, and that which it promises it delivers, although it will depend very much on your tolerance for braindead horror comedy as to whether what is being delivered is what you actually want.

The premise is a simple one – a group of young bank robbers, including ex-Eastender and Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan, and rapper-turned-actor Ashley ‘Bashy’ Thomas, attempt to pull off a robbery in order to save the nursing home in which the grandfather (Alan Ford, best known for roles in Guy Ritchie films) of two of their number resides. Of course, the robbery doesn’t go as planned, thanks to their clumsy antics and the gung-ho bloodthirst of heavily-armed Thomas, and although they end up escaping with £2 million, they also take two hostages in the form of the lovely Georgia King and TV’s Tony Gardner (who you may recognise from My Parents Are Aliens or more recently the excellent comedy drama Fresh Meat). During the course of the robbery, however, a zombie outbreak has overtaken East London, and so whilst they’re en route to deliver the cash to their grandfather, they must not only deal with their hostages and their own squabbling incompetence, but also hordes of the flesh-hungry undead.

The major problem with a film like Cockneys vs Zombies, or indeed any other British horror comedy, is Shaun of the Dead – a film so perfectly pitched and massively popular that anything else is going to look rather lacking in comparison. That is not to say to CvZ doesn’t have its strong moments: there are moments where you will laugh out loud, but there are other moments that will leave you cringing or wandering off to stick the kettle on.

Part of the problem with the film is that it feels rather disjointed. The robbery scenes veer close to the standard Lahndan gangster flicks which became such an embarrassment after the aforementioned Ritchie’s first couple of films, and don’t provide much amusement at all; but when the zombie virus hits the nursing home it turns into an Evil Dead-style laugh riot, with a plethora of British greats (some of whom, like Honor Blackman and the wonderful Richard Briers, you may not have seen on screen for quite some time) trying to outrun zombies on their zimmer frames and finding ways to fight back against the gut-munchers. More laughs come when the two groups finally meet up but by then the joke is wearing a little thin, and even the sight of Briers with an Uzi 9mm strapped to his walking frame fails to kick it up into another gear for the climax.

Whilst it is undoubtedly wonderful to see the old-timers coming back onto the screen to kick some undead arse, you do feel maybe the film would have been a lot stronger were the focus on them rather than the youngsters who have much of the running time – I for one would have been very happy to see a lot more of Briers and fellow veteran Dudley Sutton. Some of the dialogue falls pretty flat too: an on-going joke where one of the characters keeps getting Cockney rhyming slang wrong is repeated too many times and wasn’t funny in the first place. Also, like many modern zombie movies, a lot of the gore is CGI splatter, something which fans of the grue always lament as it never looks quite right. In a brief introduction to the film at Frightfest, director Matthias Hoene expressed amazement at how the film got passed with a 15 certificate – well, that’s an easy one, Matthias, it’s not remotely disturbing or realistic.

What does work in favour of the film is its decision not to take itself seriously. If you are in the right mood, with your brain checked in at the door and possibly a beverage or two in your system, it will certainly entertain you for 90 minutes or so (with a couple of tea breaks). If it’s brains or balls or heart you’re after, however, look elsewhere.

Cockneys vs Zombies is out in UK cinemas from 31st August via StudioCanal, and will screen at Grimm Up North’s Grimmfest on Thursday 4th October.