THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"RAMMBOCK (BERLIN UNDEAD)"
This summer, horror fans have a reason to celebrate. Bloody Disgusting and The Collective are teaming up to bring a four-month slate of independent fright films to AMC theaters in 30 top markets. Starting May 4, a new film will debut each month. These are not your typical Hollywood "reboots," but rather films intended to be both original and legitimately disturbing. If you're not in one of the 30 markets, you can get the movies on demand and on DVD after they finish their theatrical runs. Here's more good news: the series gets off to a strong start with the debut title, Rammbock (Berlin Undead).
In this German film from director Marvin Krem, Michael Fuith plays Michael, a guy whose longtime girlfriend Gabi (Anna Graczyk) has abruptly dumped him. He heads to Berlin to return her keys and maybe try to win her back. As soon as he gets to her apartment, he realizes that Berlin is under mass attack from zombies - and Gabi is nowhere to be found. Michael attempts to locate her within the building, but the bloodthirsty creatures are lurking everywhere. Several other living souls are also trapped; everyone attempts to help each other out as much as possible.
Zombies are hot right now, in movies, on television, and in books. A common criticism leveled at the genre, no matter what the medium, is that it frequently lacks originality. The undead, some feel, are not as open to re-interpretation as, say, vampires are. Rammbock proves that to be an incorrect statement. Benjamin Hessler's screenplay adds some cool new twists to the zombie formula. For starters, it introduces a way in which those infected can potentially fight off the plague. I won't give any spoilers, but this plot invention propels the story's third act and also creates suspense above and beyond the usual wondering if the heroes will survive. There's more urgency, as it taps into basic medical fears of getting sick and fighting disease. The manner in which the humans fend off the zombies is clever too; it seems that lopping off their heads isn't the only way to do it anymore.
Rammbock is shot with a gritty, grimy style that accentuates the horror of a zombie plague. The attacks are bloody enough to be effective, but not so gory as to be completely off-putting. As in 28 Days Later, these undead are fast, and their brutality is swift. I've seen zombie fans online debating whether fast zombies are more frightening than slow, lumbering ones. I'm going with the fast ones. Every time the undead lunged for someone here, my adrenaline kicked up a bit.
While you certainly get plenty of bang for your buck in that department, the thing that perhaps most sets this movie apart is that it finds an actual emotional core for the story. Michael is still desperately in love with Gabi. He hopes to reconcile with her, but the plague could prevent that from happening. The film is structured as his search for her. We sense that he could even be okay with her ending the relationship so long as she doesn't turn into one of them; seeing her transform is a fate worse than a broken heart. I found this to be a very intriguing approach that invests your emotions a little more than the average zombie flick.
It also leads to my sole gripe: with a running time of just 64 minutes, Rammbock feels like a great second and third act in need of a first act. The payoff to the Michael/Gabi story is stunning, and I think it would have made an even bigger impact had we been given more of a glimpse into their relationship and breakup. An additional 10-15 minutes at the top really would have set the stage for what follows and maximized its impact.
While that is no miniscule flaw, it doesn't sink the picture overall. There is still plenty of good stuff here to keep fans of zombie cinema hooked. Rammbock is stylish and exciting, with a decent amount of character emphasis. It's a horror picture worth paying attention to.
( out of four)
Rammbock (Berlin Undead) is rated R for gory violence. The running time is 1 hour and 4 minutes.