Zombie movies, after all, all follow very similar structures. Hell, that’s part of the reason why I chose zombie movies in the first place, because by seeing the same story done over and over again in dozens of different ways, you can hopefully reveal some interesting things about storytelling.
But still, even then you can sometimes feel like you’ve seen every twist, every variation, ever meta-post-ironic-reconstructed-deconstruction. Then something like Play Dead comes along and shows there are still fresh, new and exciting things to be done with the genre.
Play Dead (2012) FULL MOVIE from Andres and Diego Meza-Valdes on Vimeo.
It’s a zombie movie, but dogs! Look at the cute little doggie woggies! With their little noses and their wagging tails!
Okay, full disclosure. In the same period during which I have been testing the very limits of my zombie-movie-watching capacity I have also reluctantly been drawn over to the side of the dog lovers. A client whose house I work at regularly has a couple of really stupid dogs, and they keep looking at me with their big wet eyes and wagging their tales and jumping up to say hello and I’M NOT MADE OF STONE!
I mean look at him!
I haven’t even asked the client for permission to nick this photo from his Facebook account, on the grounds that he loves looking at pictures of his dogs so much he’ll see it as a pleasant surprise that one has suddenly turned up on a website he’s reading.
But enough looking at that dog’s stupid cute face. We’re here to review a zombie movie and review a zombie movie we shall. Minor spoilers from here on in (although really, the entire movie is right up there and takes slightly less time to watch than an episode of The Simpsons, so I don’t know why you don’t watch that first).
Play Dead is a short film funded through a Kickstarter page last year and made on a budget of less than £6,000, which even George Romero would probably have a good giggle over. The Kickstarter page describes the movie as “Homeward Bound meets a zombie apocalypse” and it doesn’t disappoint, although there’s no talking, weirdly anthropomorphised animals here. These dogs are dogs, pure and simple. The dog’s personalities are communicated partly through introductory freeze frame captions when each dog appears, and partly through... dog... acting... ? Is that a real thing?
The usual tropes you’ll find in a zombie movie are here, with a doggie twist. The disparate characters from different backgrounds forced to work together by circumstance? Check. The human settlement that looks like it’ll provide sanctuary but actually turns out to be more dangerous than the zombies? Check. The long trek through the apocalyptic wasteland to find a destination where safety and supplies are plentiful? Check. The shocking twist at the end where it turns out the sanctuary is taken over by vicious, flesh eating killing machines? Check and check.
However, perhaps the people who’ll find this film most disturbing are dog owners themselves. Not because we see horrible things happen to the dogs (although we do) but because of the other zombie movie trope this movie embraces.
See, as I’ve talked about before, one of the things about the zombie apocalypse is that it’s a fantasy. It’s a fantasy of waking up one day to discover the rules and restrictions that are holding you down the rest of the time have suddenly disappeared, and now you can go running around shopping malls stealing everything you like and hitting people in the face with cricket bats.
It’s something we’ve seen pass into Young Adult fiction as well, with books like Charlie Higson’s The Enemy and Alexander Gordon Smith’s The Fury showing kids scenes of sheer horror back to back with appealing fantasies about what life would be like with all these grown-ups all over the place.
And so with Play Dead “law and order” or “grown-ups” are replaced with, well, you, dog owners. Play Dead is a dog’s wish-fulfilment fantasy about just how great life would be if you were dead. One of the dogs even drags her zombified owner around on a leash.
So, ummm... yeah, there’s that.
Still, look how cute the doggies are!