Saturday, April 30, 2011

La Horde

My Rating: 6/10

When four corrupt policemen invade a gangster's hideout near Paris to avenge the death of their colleague, they quickly find themselves outmanned, outgunned and trapped. That is, until a legion of vicious zombies swarms through the building. Now, the cops, the crooks and the undead are swept up in a bloody three-way rampage.
"La Horde" is a French zombie film from 2009. It's best described as "Assault on Precinct 13" meets [REC] (BTW, I do think [REC] may possibly be my personal all-time favorite zombie film ever. I realize that "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead" are the classics, and I'm really fond of both "Shaun of the Dead" and "Return of the Living Dead", but [REC] is just distilled perfection for me, and is the only zombie movie that's ever managed to genuinely frighten me). "Horde" was dark and intense, and not a jokey zombie film at all. It's the story of a group of police officers who decide to wipe out a local criminal gang, vigilante-style.  Unfortunately for them, the tables are turned almost immediately and things look grim, but instead of being murdered, they are forced to team up with the criminals when a zombie apocalypse hits and both groups are trapped in an unfinished, condemned city tower block. 

This was a lot of fun - Very much a brawling, fast-paced, grungy drive-in popcorn movie.  It has its downsides.  The zombie chow in this flick are not characters you'll be tempted to root for. They didn't really have much in the way of personalities at all, other than being amusingly obvious French renditions of popular Hollywood stereotypes. We had the serious, bald, bearded Jeff Bridges guy playing his role as Stane in Iron Man; we had a Samuel Motherfuckin' Jackson black bald guy as the badass head of the criminal gang; we had a Harvey Keitel "Reservoir Dogs" guy as the borderline untrustworthy psycho; we had a Megan Fox-ish "I'm a bitch and I don't care what anyone thinks because I've got the booty" lady cop, and so on. This is perfectly illustrated in the poster pic of the three main characters:
*  70's macho Sly Stallone guy
*  Bitchy Megan Fox chick with prominently featured nipples
*  Samuel Motherfuckin' Jackson going psycho

It was pretty funny, really, because while nearly all the main characters were Xeroxes of American movie stars, the only character in this who was genuinely likable was the one authentic French character, the crazy old guy that used to be in the army. While the world is disintegrating into zombie hell outside, he's happy to bar the doors and sit around the kitchen table drinking pastis.  And maybe it's good that we don't get too sympathetic of anyone, because, well...

While the characters are so-so, the zombie outbreak is handled excellently, almost Cloverfield in style, in that it's the classic, "No one knows what's happening, suddenly the city is going up in flames, why are they bombing parts of the city, where did these screaming hordes of undead come from?" These were the best scenes of the movie, IMO - The realization that while everyone has been consumed with the action and fighting going on inside the building, really, REALLY epic-level awful things are happening outside, unnoticed until it's too late. VERY bleak, but worth seeing if you're in the mood for some serious zombie carnage.

I'm going to make some French cultural guesstimations here.  I'm very, very wary of reviewers who read all sorts of subtexts into foreign films that they claim represent the culture depicted, when really what we're saying is that these are our observations of the most basic stereotypes and cliches of that other culture, as seen from outside.  I watched this happen often while living in France and reading French reviews and comments on US movies and books, many of which tried to offer some piercing insight into "American culture" while simultaneously getting it completely wrong, so I'm sensitive about the sort of land mines one can step on when reviewing foreign film. That said, based on my time living there, I suspect that "Horde" manages to say a lot of political stuff that non-French folks will miss, like the marginalization of the Nigerian bad guys who are loyal to each other but simply cannot function in a legal way in the French system. Also, the classic state housing, low income tower block is a character in itself, for anyone who has seen the typical government housing buildings on the outskirts of French cities. There were some in St. Nazaire and many in Nantes that looked just like this - 75% finished, out of money, not livable, but not torn down because , well... "the state". Alors, the simple fact that all of the "good people" (i.e., "native French") of the inner city are coming out to the low rent suburbs to actually devour the unwanted immigrant inhabitants may be, I suspect, a bit of very underhanded French satire  (French cities seemed an odd inversion of the American rule, to me.  Here we have "white flight" - All the middle class white Americans move out to the suburbs, leaving the inner cities to the poor and the criminal.  There, it seemed the opposite, with the native French downtown and each city ringed by violent suburb tracts full of gangs).  Or not.  It's also entirely possible that I'm reading too much into it - See my comments on the perils of reviewing les produits des autres cultures above.  

Overall, it was a blast - Just the sort of thing that would have been perfect drive-in fare back in the days when there were drive-ins.  Rough, brutal, and straight to the point, it's the sort of movie that Tarantino keeps self-consciously trying to homage.  It is not a great movie, but it certainly isn't dull.

Suggested Accompaniment:  Not quite innocent or light enough to be a popcorn movie, you're probably better off finding a fairly ragged tobacco to smoke in whichever French-brand pipe you own.  Really, though, this is a film for a pack of Gauloise and a glass of Armorik (An affordable Breton whiskey).