2007Director: Scott Thomas
Cast: Erick Avari, David Chisum, Kristin Kerr
omparing Plane Dead to recent films of a similar mid-air ilk does it no particular favors. Like Snakes on a Plane or Flightplan, the film fails to make you feel you are anywhere but in a sound studio and—unlike United 93—there is no imperative. Sure, Greengrass’ film had pretty much the rawest nerve in cinematic history to exploit, but the director of that film deserves credit for following through with the drama and delivering the moments that count in disaster movies. In Plane Dead, on the other hand, the zombies are eligible terrorists, but fail to live up to the tag as the film shreds itself into nothing.
A counter-point of reference might be last year’s Slither, a hackneyed narrative brought to life by the wit and competence of the filmmaking. Plane Dead is the reverse: an ingenious and mouth-watering set-up that ends up as not much more than a bloody waste. The narrative screams out for a John Carpenter or Joe Dante to forge it into something with a little class.
The inexperience of the director is clear from the get-go. The main problem is that Plane Dead is edited rather than directed, a succession of shock cuts that builds a formulaic and predictable pattern. The unsophisticated use of an enclosed environment (usually such an impressive staple of the zombie movie) is a particular disappointment. It’s hard to imagine that a film in such a claustrophobic space should feel so disconnected, but it does—perhaps because the flaws in the players and plot are so cavernous. If the characters were true genre creations—badly and broadly drawn but from somewhere, hoping to achieve something—then Plane Dead might have a chance. As it stands, it’s just too badly put together to inspire the typically scrupulous, die-hard fans that keep the living-dead genre going. The budget of the film could in no way handle the size of the project. The over-reliance on CGI is totally out of place in this genre, which has and should continue to rely on the more inventive prosthetic monstrosities that make it so much fun.
The film only starts to tug at the audience’s interest when it turns into carnage, which is an easily achieved but uninspiring departure from the consummate films of George Romero. I can’t think of another genre so dependent on one figure to measure the success of any subsequent endeavors. The DNA of the filmmaker will always be detectable in any zombie movie, and the question is: can anyone really live up to the ancestral pressure? Unfortunately for Scott Thomas and his screenwriters, Plane Dead does not make the grade and is nothing more than an illegitimate disappointment to its forefather. It doesn’t have the Hawksian collective wit of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (in fact, it rips off the savage manner of the zombies wholesale from that film), nor does it have the raw power of Danny Boyle’s study-in-terror 28 Days Later.
Further, it fails to compensate for the lack of originality with the cultish humor of, say, Return of the Living Dead. Most noticeably it lacks the intelligence, overall sophistication and social commentary of the Romero originals. In Land of the Dead, Romero proved adept enough at incorporating our world into his, zombifying the self-consuming nature of contemporary politics and commerce. Unfortunately, Thomas has no ambitions to do the same. In the sole attempt to create a world recognizable to the audience, the military considers the termination of the plane. All of thirty seconds and no true exploration of the moral implications of the situation resolve the matter—a glaring opportunity missed to take a bite out of something of substance.
There’s a philosophic theory termed ‘the Zombic Hunch,’ which proposes the possibility of beings who might look like us and act like us, but have no soul or feelings. I’d imagine that these hypothetical products of the Zombic theory would be the ideal audience for Plane Dead: it urges you to leave your brains at check-in, as one way or another they’ll be eaten by this low-altitude trash
Plane Dead is currently touring the film festival circuit.