On the surface, "Awaken the Dead" is one micro-budget indie Horror flick that seems to offer a bit of a holiday from the usual 'indentikit' formulas that tend to define such ubiquitous fare. Scene one introduces a tattooed, whisky-sozzeled priest with a bad conscience, some cool shades (later in the film, he switches to an eye patch!) and some mean stubble to abet the hip, Spaghetti Western-style man-in-black image. He wakes from troubled dreams to a mysterious red envelope that has somehow materialised in his anonymous hotel room overnight, the contents telling him to head across town to a particular named address. Meanwhile, across town, the pretty daughter of a ruthless assassin also wakes to a similar envelope -- the message inside from her missing father tells her to stay put and wait for him. The priest (called Christopher) and the daughter (Mary) end up forced unwillingly to share the house -- which is, unusually, decked out with bullet-proof windows and reinforced doors -- while they wait for the elusive Jeremiah (dig those heavy Biblical references!). It turns out Christopher (Gary Kohn) used to be Jeremiah's assassin-partner, but he turned to religion after one of their assignments forced him to kill two innocent children. Mary (Lindsey Morris), meanwhile, turned to drugs and prostitution after being abandoned by her violent father.
This seems like it could potentially be a rather interesting partnership: two intriguing characters at the centre of an espionage plot with Sci Fi overtones that hinges on a secret Government biochemical weapons testing programme called Project Red Phoenix. But, once these two have been ensconced inside the house, the film's middle section quickly turns into a typical zombie siege scenario, and not a particularly compelling one at that. An overhead plane releases some sort of biochemical that turns everyone in the immediate vicinity into flesh-eating zombies with a gruesome demonic appearance, and we're back in familiar indie flick territory. At first, two Asian schoolgirl zombies don't prove too much of a problem, but as the numbers of the undead increase, the assassin-turned-pacifist priest and the hard-nosed ex-prostitute, quarrel over whether they should allow any other survivors to join them inside the house. Eventually, they come to an agreement and a cowardly Jehovah's Witness called Stanley (Nate Witty) and an aggressive meathead with a gun, called Nick (Paul Dion Monte), and his hysterical girlfriend Michelle (Aurora Corcuera) are saved from the marauding hordes now claiming the once quiet streets. Unfortunately, Michelle has been concealing a zombie bite from her partner and everyone else in the house, and in the middle of the night all hell breaks loose, resulting in the survivors -- Christopher, Mary and Stanley -- leaving the now tarnished safety of the reinforced house and making for a nearby church, which another envelope has told them will be where they will finally meet up with Jeremiah and have the whole scenario explained to them.
The problem is that the wasteland that divides them from this sanctuary is now absolutely heaving with rampaging undead ghouls!
There is plenty of 28 days Later-inspired shaky-cam stuff going on throughout this whole deal, and incessant use of those stuttery slow-motion and digital blurring effects designed to make the zombie attacks look frenetic and aggressive -- but despite one cool sequence in which a bodybuilder is torn apart in front of our eyes, this mostly comes off as just a desperate attempt to make a rather lame effort look far more exciting than it actually is. The problem is that all of the characters, even the main ones, are thinly written and one-dimensional; despite all the colourful back history the two leads are furnished with, one never really comes to believe in them let alone care what happens to them -- they're always merely cyphers. We're given loads of extra 'last act' information on these two that is probably supposed to make us think of them as having much more depth, but we're simply told about it in lengthy dialogue scenes rather than shown anything that would really make it believable. Writer, director and producer Jeff Brookshire seems to have framed most of the film's set-pieces as simple and rather un-dynamic master shots, giving the film a dull, static quality even with all that jittery, slo-mo and shakey-cam work intended to suggest excitement; and to cap it all, the film has a rather strange colour grading scheme that veers it towards a drab, sepia tonal quality -- and there's some digitally applied grain that, despite helping the film evade the flat, shot-on-video look that plague most modern indie films, still ends up looking mundane and visually unappetising. Attempts to incorporate comedy (mainly through the character of Stanley) don't really work; there's some lame slapstick now and again which immediately detracts from any sense of tension the film might have had; and the final act's plot revelations are hardly anything worth writing home about. All in all this is merely an average indie flick: not so bad it's still worth seeing anyway, but not good enough to raise its head above the general, ever-present tide of indie slop.
Brain Damage Films present the film with an uninspiring non-anamorphic transfer that probably makes the film look as good as it's ever likely to, and the only extras are the usual bunch of Brain Damage Films trailers.