State of Emergency (Clay Turner, 2011)
The best of the movies I watched this week was, surprisingly, not watched on Tuesday. (A glimpse into the life of Your Favorite Goat: I work from home every Tuesday, so for eight and a half blissful hours, when I am not on the phone with users, I am able to watch movies back to back, and I can usually get through four or five on any given Tuesday.) I was home alone on Wednesday night and on the verge of falling asleep—I’d been awake all Tuesday night thanks to a medication change that brought on a severe bout of insomnia—and so I did what I often do, trolled the bottom of my sorted-by-star-rating Netflix queue to find a crappy horror movie to which I could blissfully drift off until the family got home. I chanced on State of Emergency, pulled out the pillow, and prepared to pass out cold. Ten minutes later I was bolt upright, glued to the screen, and I realized that this was one of those wonderful times when the public had gotten it wrong, wrong, wrong, and I was seeing a minor, overlooked gem.
To be fair, I went into the movie with expectations even lower than that paragraph conveys; somehow I had gotten the Clay Brothers (Turner wrote and directed, while John Will produced; if you are truly unlucky, you may remember seeing John Will Turner in front of the camera in Hannah Montana: The Movie) mixed up with the Cole brothers, Derek and Shane, who directed a godawful 2006 no-budget snoozefest called Human Behavior. So I was pretty much expecting “Human Behavior with zombies.” Oh, no. No, no, no. State of Emergency wears its horror-loving heart on its sleeve, drawing liberally from 28 Days Later…, The Crazies, Night of the Living Dead, and a handful of other horror films (and, as much as I hate to say it given how much I despised the movie, Cast Away), but they do it well enough, and with enough tender loving care, that I am more than comfortable calling this an homage, not a rip-off.
Plot: Jim (The House Bunny‘s Jay Hayden) is just about to propose to his girlfriend Emilie (Overnight‘s McKenna Jones) when the world ends. No, really. He doesn’t have all that much in the way of details, but thanks to a TV station outside his area he can pick up with rabbit ears (talk about a Crazies throwback!), he discovers there was an explosion at a nearby chemical plant, and the military have quarantined the area. As we open, Jim is carrying Emilie through a field; she has been mortally wounded. We do not know how. (Minor spoiler alert/plothole: we never find out. Doubtful she was attacked by zombies, since we don’t see one for a while. Flying shrapnel? He would have known about the explosion before finding a TV. And why didn’t he just go home? Note that I cared about none of this while actually watching the movie.) She dies in his arms. Dead weight is heavy, so he finds a horse barn—seemingly abandoned, but with working water, power, and phone—and goes about setting himself up a defensible position. (Which leads to the conclusion that, okay, she was attacked by a zombie. But… you know, one more script rewrite would have (a) solved all this and (b) kicked this movie’s review up at least a half a star.) Jim finds an industrial barn in which to hole up; it’s pretty defensible, but it’s also large, which leads to the inevitable “hey, there’s a zombie or two hiding out in here.” The phones are still working, and a small group of survivors holed up in a warehouse just over the hill gets in touch with Jim; he heads over there, meets them (there’s husband and wife Scott [Fading of the Cries‘ Scott Lilly] and Julie [Kathryn Todd Norman in her first screen appearance], as well as Ix [Desert of Blood‘s Tori White, whom they found in a state of deep shock and brought back to the compound), and the bunch settle in for a siege with the hope, ubiquitous in zombie movies, that this is a local problem and the government will eventually drop in and rescue them.
It would be one hell of a spoiler to tell you one of my favorite things about this movie, since it’s the final sequence, but as soon as that sequence started, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop…and eventually it dawned on me that the Bros. Clay were actually going to play that final sequence straight. I don’t think I have ever seen that in a zombie movie before. Even if the rest of the movie had been barely competent, that last sequence would push this over the line into recommend territory. However, this is not barely competent; this is well-thought-out, paced like an art-cinema talk piece (which will probably not sit well with some horror fans, but those who have the patience for it will be amply rewarded), acted well enough for government work, and with a surprisingly satisfying resolution. I’m not a huge fan of one of the twists the story takes (there’s an obvious romance subplot being set up between Jim and Ix that just doesn’t ring true given that Jim’s almost-fiancee has just died a few days previous), but that ends up being a minor complaint in an otherwise very pleasant surprise. Well worth the time if you stumble across it. *** ½