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Siege of the Dead

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Marvin Kren
Michael Fuith
Theo Trebs
Emily Cox
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 With a total running time of exactly one hour, this dour German zombie flick from director Marvin Kren and writer Benjamin Hessler certainly doesn’t intend outstaying its welcome; but although the subject matter and set-up are undoubtedly as hackneyed as they come, the film’s surreally deadpan, sometimes comic, approach to this most familiar of genre staples, elevates what seems on the surface a predictable, by-the-numbers trot through a clichéd zombie infested landscape (an expectation hardly allayed by the film’s dull English language re-titling) to an almost Kafkaesque meditation on modern mans’ struggle to survive love and life amid the urban sprawl of a major modern city.

Michael (Michael Fuith) is a balding, middle-aged nobody, glumly succumbing to the ravages of middle-age spread and desperately clinging to the last shreds of hope that he might rekindle a fast fading relationship with his girlfriend Gabi. Optimistically, he’s tricked himself into believing that if he personally travels all the way to Berlin, in order to hand her back his personal key to her flat (after she wrote requesting it), they might be able to start again. The unlikeliness of this scenario is illustrated all too keenly by the fact that even his rehearsal of what he will say when he first sees her again soon degenerates into recrimination and accusation.

Gabi turns out to live in a musty-looking set of rooms on the top floor of a rather austere block of apartments circling a concrete forecourt, and Michael arrives to find that she’s just gone out -- but her door is open because she’s got the plumbers in. Bit when one of them turns bright red, froths white foam at the mouth and attacks his young partner in an animated frenzy, Michael’s lovelorn day transforms from uneventful and rather hopeless into a desperate quest for survival. The TV news reveals that the whole of Berlin Is being rapidly overcome by anarchy and violence as a rage-inducing zombie plague causes pandemonium. All Michael and his new teenage ally Harper (Theo Trebs) can do is sit and wait, and bicker in Gabi’s barricaded flat as the civilisation they once knew collapses around them into lawlessness and horror.

Filmed in sickly, colour-bleached greens and dour greys, “Siege of the Dead” mines a similar seam for its inspiration as “Sean of the Dead” once did, where domestic ordinariness is confronted by the zombie apocalypse and hopes it will all just eventually go away; here though, the humour is ironic and downbeat and the threat is visceral and realistically presented in the dark and dirty style of Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later”. The beleaguered hero goes from fretting about the whereabouts of the missing Gabi, worrying about the battery on his mobile dying, and remonstrating with Harper when the handy plumber’s mate tries to use a few of Gabi’s dessert spoons to make a zombie-pinging slingshot with, to being forced to confront the end of the world he once knew and abandon his preoccupation with fixing his hopeless love life in favour of working out just how exactly they are going to survive.

Things rapidly go from bad to worse as the duo are forced to cede more and more of the already cramped flat to the flesh-hungry infected; first they get pushed back into the bedroom (with no food and no toilet); then they end-up stuck in the kitchen; and finally Harper ends up wedged into a gap on top of the kitchen unit while Michael gets stuck in an unlit pantry. Some of the tenants of the other upper flats are able to communicate with each other across the zombie-infested, rubbish-strewn forecourt beneath them, in a sort of zombie version of “Rear Window”, and after Michael makes his way to the roof, a half-baked plan eventually forms between them all to clear the creatures from the complex and shut the gate -- with the ultimate aim of escaping down river in a small boat anchored on a nearby lake.

The image of a circle of trapped tenants in their dingy prison-like hovels, their resort to the use of prescription drugs in order to sedate infected loved-ones rather than kill them, and the sight of hordes of angry red-faced  zombies roaming the stairwells (and increasingly, the apartments themselves) and the block’s empty forecourt, are sights that seem grimly evocative of contemporary urban living in the impoverished, sealed-off crime-ridden sink estates of many modern European cities; the film revels in downbeat humour aimed  at the very mundaneness of its characters and their drab surroundings, with an atmosphere that smacks more of prime Polanski than Romero -- but then builds to an ironical climax of unexpected transcendence while moving strains of opera swell on the soundtrack in the final scenes.

“Siege of the Dead” is an interesting take on the zombie flick, thankfully largely eschewing obvious gore or action-packed heroics in favour of the ordinary perspective of an average Joe whose only aim is to scrape by and, perhaps, find love on the way. Michael Fuith is perfectly cast in terms of his looks: dumpy, dour and exuding a downtrodden, besieged persona even before the zombie infection takes root, Fuith manages to transform what is at first a dangerously unsympathetic and annoying antihero into an unwillingly heroic everyman the viewer can identify with by the second half of this very brief movie. A sense of unease and foreboding and increasing claustrophobia are brought to bear on the material with expert aplomb by Kren, in this, his first (sort of!) feature length effort, and the escalating tension as the living conditions in the apartment block deteriorate and the zombies get more aggressive is nicely evoked, keeping the suspense levels high throughout the full one hour running time.

Revolver Entertainment present “Siege of the Dead” in a bare bones DVD release that seems to present this rather deliberately colourless and dark film in an accurate light with a clear 2.0 German audio track and clear and readable English subtitles. Utilising the most traditional of material, the film nevertheless manages to create a different atmosphere from the norm, and is for that reason more worthy of attention than most films dealing in this increasingly tired genre. Worth a look. 

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