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Horde, The

Review by: 
A.J. MacReady
Release Date: 
2009
Studio: 
Alliance
Genre: 
Action/Horror
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
A
Aspect Ratio: 
2.35:1
Directed by: 
Yannick Dahan
Benjamin Rocher
Cast: 
Claude Perron
Jean-Pierre Martins
Eriq Ebouaney
Movie: 
4
Extras: 
3
Bottom Line: 
4

I've said it before and I'll say it again: sometimes it isn't about reinventing the wheel, but simply spinning it well. The French action/horror flick The Horde is a perfect example of this. It clearly takes its inspiration from some genre classics, specifically Assault on Precinct 13 & the Dawn of the Dead remake -- because these zombies haul ASS -- but as it gleefully cherry-picks elements from those (I've heard more than a few people compare this to The Raid, but the problem there is that The Horde came out two years before that did), it proudly provides a hugely fun, no-nonsense evening in front of your TV.

The setup is so simple I can probably dispense with it in two sentences. A small group of police officers, seeking revenge for the murder of one of their own, infiltrates a high-rise apartment building that the criminal perpetrators call home. Their timing could be better, as once inside, the zombie apocalypse kicks off and in order to survive the cops have to band together with the criminals they've come to kill.

That's literally it. But as the late great Roger Ebert was fond of saying, "it's not so much what a movie is about as how it is about it," and that surely holds true here, because even if the story is amazingly derivative of other, better flicks (and it certainly is), the bottom line for this reviewer is simple: I FUCKING LOVE THOSE OTHER FLICKS. It would be one thing if the result was only a pale imitation of its influences, but thankfully writer/directors Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher bring some style, a rollercoaster pace, and a heaping helping of hand-to-hand combat & zombie gore to the table, which makes the whole cocktail go down remarkably smoothly.

I won't lie: I sort of love this stupid thing. There's some drawbacks, obviously; it's impossible for a movie to lean SO much on its influences without struggling through some familiarity fatigue for knowledgeable viewers. Yes, we've seen a LOT of this before. There's no circumventing that fact. Another point against it would be some of the digital FX -- I noticed a number of instances where the compositing and/or greenscreen work could be described charitably as "glaring" and less so as "shitty." Truth be told, that doesn't bother me so much; it's clear that they weren't working with a huge budget and these things happen. The script is serviceable to good, but I'd say it gets it done where it matters. I'll admit one point of confusion: I don't think zombie fiction exists in the world of the movie. I say that because the characters NEVER figure out (at least to point it out in even one line of dialogue) that the only way to keep the undead from getting back up again is to destroy the brain. They just keep blasting/stabbing away, and even when they do blow some heads off it doesn't seem to occur to them that that's the thing to do. I admit that I find that strange, but it also has the added effect of making this story stand out from other such stories (which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view) and ultimately it wasn't anywhere near a dealbreaker for me. A couple of the actors aren't exactly taking a sabbatical from the London stage, but none of the performances sink the whole enterprise in any case. The three main actors (Jean-Pierre Martins, Eriq Ebouaney, and particularly Claude Perron as one seriously tough chick) are more than adequate and are actually quite good.

Something I feel the script does do well is in its handling of an element present in pretty much any undead flick worth its salt, and that's the contrast between the good and bad sides of humanity. Some of the cops are cowardly, worthless pieces of shit while some of the criminals reveal depths of courage, resilience and even (somewhat) kindness that you might not expect. Sure, most of the characters are types, but the fact remains that it's executed well. And really, what would you rather have in your zombie flick -- deep dissertations on what it means to be human in a dying world with literate, thoughtful dialogue that comes up short in the ass-kicking carnage department? Or would you prefer a fast-moving, brutally violent thrill ride that is not exactly overflowing with substance? Obviously it'd be nice to have both, but we all know that sort of thing is a rarity. If I'm watching an action/horror flick I want badass action and impressively bloody kills above anything else, and The Horde gives me that in spades.

As far as the look of the film goes, director of photography Julien Meurice deploys superbly done handheld camerawork and his lighting adds a sheen of docudrama grit to the proceedings. That feeling translates to the production design from Marie Laure Merriaux, placing the action squarely in this shoddy project building (said location of which doesn't exactly help our protagonists very much), and the street-level atmosphere of the decaying building is palpable throughout. The action is well-staged and comprehensible, which is a huge plus for someone like myself who would take Walter Hill over Michael Bay any day of the week, and more than welcome. The practical/makeup FX are top-notch for something so modestly budgeted, and it's a real treat to see a flick that remembers what it's like to use some quality squib work; there's nothing here on the level of a Verhoeven or Woo picture, but every bullet hit brings a healthy amount of the wet stuff, and most of it isn't CG, either (which should be welcome to those purists who cry about such stuff even in something truly transcendent like John Wick).

The Region 1 Blu from Alliance more than does its job. There's a clear, detailed picture with inky blacks and popping crimson along with an aggressive sound mix (5.1 DTS-HD in both English and French, with subtitles for both as well) that effectively immerses you in the hell our characters find themselves in. Bonus features are fairly decent; we get a behind the scenes documentary (almost 30 mins long and fairly entertaining) that, like the deleted scenes included, are helpfully subtitled in English for those of us savages that don't speak French. A collection of storyboard art rounds out the package.

The Horde is fast, fun, carnage-filled mayhem that will satisfy all those that appreciate this sort of wild, bloody insanity. In fact, I'd sum it up thusly: if you're a fan of intense actioners and/or hardcore zombie movies, you owe it to yourself to give it a look at least once. It's unlikely the flick will change your life, but I'm betting you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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