Zombie flick with extraordinary prescience goes for the jugular
It’s fascinating to see how Mikhail Red’s filmmaking gumption and tale-spinning skill continue to unravel in the zombie flick, “Block Z.” There’s no other way to see it: The kid is on a roll—and we’re excited to find out what else he’s cooking up under that omnipresent cap.
Not even the tried-and-tested tandem of Julia Barretto and Joshua Garcia, regardless of whether they still get along after their much-ballyhooed breakup, can take the spotlight away from the inventive ways Mik has turned the horror formula on its head. Sure, there are B-movie moments in its cheeky execution, but that’s par for the course in limited-budget genre filmmaking, especially in a country where there’s really not much budget for splashy scenes to speak of. And because of its preference for fast-paced action over a creeping sense of doom-and gloom, viewers can immediately sense what is at stake for its beleaguered and “very relatable” protagonists: Along with likable characters making the ultimate sacrifice, you also see bullies, jocks, pig-headed beauties and opportunists getting their just deserts. Zombies are, after all, equal-opportunity offenders.
If “Eerie” had, well, eerily sluggish and static bits that occasionally weighed down its pace, in his latest chiller, Mik has pretty much swept the brooding approach under the rug and gone straight for the jugular—with satisfying and gutsily realized results.
Don’t get us wrong—we’ve seen so many horror stories tackling the flesh-nibbling sort and told so many times before. But “Block Z” has found ways to “reimagine” and reenergize old tropes in telling the tale of medical students, particularly PJ (Julia) and Lucas (Joshua), fighting for their young lives on a school campus overrun by zombies after a viral outbreak.
Imagine yourself getting stuck in a place where there’s nowhere to hide or run, because the school is under virtual lockdown!
Such extraordinary prescience, don’t you think? It’s like a banner story lifted from newspaper headlines and told with confidence and panache.
PJ and Lucas’ nightmare begins when Patient Zero, Angie (Ina Raymundo), shows up at the ER complaining of headache, myalgia, body malaise and other flu-like symptoms. It doesn’t take long before Angie succumbs to her “unmanaged” illness and begins biting everyone that stands in her way. The viral infection then spreads like wildfire as it turns the bitten into ravenous biters. The film is made more compelling by unforced humor (a crucial ingredient in many zombie movies) and cleverly realized characters that make the victims’ backstories even more personal—like PJ’s strained relationship with his returning OFW dad Mario (Ian Veneracion), her budding romance with Lucas, her relationship with friends and classmates (McCoy de Leon, Maris Racal, Yves Flores, Myrtle Sarrosa), and the satirical class structure that fuels the complex dynamics of university life.
Mik uses his indie cred to make this formulaic nail-biter bristle and crackle with thematic and metaphorical pertinence. But none of that would have made any difference if he didn’t know how to generate excitement and hair-raising thrill.
The movie also brings in other idiosyncratically portrayed characters for the zombies to chase after and bite—from the monster-slaying female security guard (Dimples Romana) to the petty swindler (Timothy Castillo) who gets more than he bargained for.It doesn’t hurt that the acting ensemble delivers convincing portrayals that competently hopscotches between action and drama with equal ease. Each of the character wishes his or her friends no ill, but when push comes to shove, it’s everyman for himself. The battle between good and evil just got more complicated—and scarier!