Chiller Films makes a run at the DVD audience with the latest offering, Remains, a post apocalyptic zombie tale based on the Steve Niles graphic novel of the same name. The story takes place in Reno, Nevada, where a small group of survivors shack up in a hotel/ casino and fend off a throng of zombies after some sort of explosion wipes out the living contingent and replaces them with the undead. In typical made for TV fashion, Remains is full of hokey one-liners, fade to black moments and scenarios that frequently play out into dead ends. However, there were a few pleasant surprises within the film that made Remains more than just a "bearable" experience. I consider myself a pretty big fan of zombie flicks, hence the fancy pants handle I carry around. I've seen great films (Dawn of the Dead) and not so great films (House of the Dead) that showcase varying forms of corpses seeking vengeance on the living for their own reasons, most of them dealing with hunger issues. Steve Niles' Remains is one of those films that will just sit in the middle of the favor scale, as it never progresses to a point of fanaticism, but also never falls below a point where you feel as though Uwe Boll is the driving force behind the film.
The film opens in a Reno casino/ hotel/ shithole, the kind one would avoid while on vacation unless they had absolutely no other options. Through a montage of letdown moments, we are introduced to the primary cast members Tom (Bowler), Tori (Marie) and Jensen (Hughes). Each character has its own apparent flaws, with each fitting an archetype of zombie films past. Tom is the alcoholic card dealer with a cloudy past. Tori is the addiction riddled waitress who peddles her clam for blow and a slight amount of flattery. Jensen is the magician's assistant with little to no self confidence and a lot to prove to the world. The characters all fit in nicely to the dead end backdrop of the Reno casino and act with little or no promise until the catastrophic event brings a live or die situation to their doorstep.
The trio quickly discover that something is amiss with the patrons in and around the casino, as they seem to be among a handful of survivors that were somehow unaffected by the mega-blast that rocked the Reno area. After a few anti-climactic zombie kill scenes, we are introduced to the Judas character, Victor, who is saved by Jensen from a hungry group of zombies. Predictable behavior ensues, as the newly formed quartet tries to survive on what little resources they have left, until they finally formulate a plan for escape. The escape plan calls in a roving militia led by Ramsey (Riddick) and his daughter, Cindy (Cypress). Our Judas character fulfills his prophecy in selling out the survivors and a swift gunfight ensues. Bad actors bodies fly everywhere and the zombies turn some of our militia men standees into happy meals as the remaining survivors either hit the bricks or head for safety.
Formulaic to a point of futility, Remains does not keep the viewer guessing and often gets trite in the repeated attempts at plot development through failed escape plans. The film often trips over its own coattails as it frequently treads over the same plot lines without any payoffs. Victor's double crossing nature, Tom's alcoholism and Tori's lack of self respect are frequently brought into the limelight without any significant impact on the storyline. The one saving grace for the acting in this feature was Miko Hughes, who puts on one hell of a performance as the meek Jensen. Hughes doesn't miss a beat as the little guy who has something to prove throughout the entirety of the film. It makes you wonder where the hell he's been all these years, as the guy definitely has more talent than any of his onscreen counterparts.
Another plus to Remains was the incredible sound editing for the film. Rarely do I pay any attention to sound editing in a review, but Jesus - for a made for TV film, this flick does an excellent job of creating tension with well placed crescendos and eerie sound effects! As a stand alone, the score wasn't much to wave a stick at. However, the placement and pacing of the film's music and sound work came together extremely well. A shame the same can't be said for the actual story's development and execution. Remains would have been better served if it were shortened by 28 minutes and presented as a "Masters of Horror" type featurette. There was just too much exploitation of character folly to make the movie enjoyable. I mean, how many fucking times can you botch an escape? Especially when these zombies sleep at night?! I know, the undead don't fucking sleep!
Shout! Factory and Chiller Films do a great job of bundling Remains with a killer amount of bonus content on the disc. The extras are comprised of an audio commentary, a short film (11 minutes) prequel titled "Remains: Road to Reno", TV spots (for a TV movie!), Trailer, Comic-Con Teaser and dig it - Blooper Reel! Blooper reels are by far the best add-on for a movie like Remains because you get to be in on the punchline, rather than be the fucking punchline after watching the film.
By and large, Steve Niles' Remains was far superior to any SyFy film I've seen to date. Chiller Films does itself a great justice by releasing this film with the large amount of bonus features, as it's a substantial incentive for an existing fanbase of the TV broadcast film to pick up the DVD or Blu-Ray. Although it's no Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later, Remains has its bright spots and could make for an excellent launching pad for Chiller Films to build off of. For now, it will exist as the only zombie based film I have ever seen where the undead catch some shut eye when the sun goes down. Seriously, what the fuck?