Siege of the Dead (AKA Rammbock) (2010)
DVD Release Date: 25th October 2010
Directed by: Marvin Kren
Starring: Michael Fuith, Theo Trebs, Anna Graczyk, Emily Cox
Review by: Ben Bussey
When Michael (Fuith) arrives unannounced at the Berlin apartment which until recently he shared with his now ex-girlfriend, his primary concern is whether she will want to reconcile as desperately as he does. Unfortunately, this ceases to be Michael’s primary concern very quickly. On entering the apartment he finds not his estranged love but two plumbers fixing the heating, and barely a moment passes before one of those plumbers starts acting a little strangely. His face turns red, his mouth begins to froth – and then he leaps up and attacks Michael and his young co-worker Harper (Trebs). Forced into an alliance of circumstance, Michael and Harper manage to escape their attacker and secure themselves in a section of the apartment, but looking out of the window into the complex, they see that the situation is much the same everywhere. As ever in these situations, the key question immediately becomes one of survival and escape, clinging to the vague hope that there is still a world to escape to.
If you’re anything like me, I suspect your expectations are not high thus far. The premise reeks of the overfamiliarity I complained of in my review of The Horde not so long ago, particularly when the film is saddled with such a painfully obvious English title. I don’t know who is responsible for this choice, or why they settled on something so horrendously generic, but they really didn’t do themselves any favours. This is only made worse by cover art shown above, which bears no relation to the film whatsoever: I can assure you, at no point does Siege of the Dead show helicopters flying admist skyscrapers firing rockets into swathes of the walking dead on the ground. I guess apologists might counter-argue that these are typical exploitation tactics, to sell the product as significantly bigger, louder and more extravagant than it actually is; and that, as such, it’s all part of the fun of low-budget cheap and nasty horror. But that would really be selling this film short. That would be to suggest that this low-budget German horror (the debut from director Marvin Kren) is indeed cheap, nasty and derivative, and that it does not have anything of interest in and of itself. This is most definitely not the case here. Siege of the Dead is in fact a very enjoyable, interesting film, and almost certainly the most unusual and effective take on the zombie movie that I’ve encountered since last year’s excellent no-budget Brit-flick Colin.
Not unlike Colin, this is a little film with the smarts to make the most out of what little it has: in this instance, an apartment complex and a small but skillful cast. Lead actor Michael Fuith was a particularly inspired choice; whilst a great many other movies may claim to cast unconventional hero types, there is literally nothing about Fuith that suggests heroism. As well as being physically unremarkable, the character is deeply flawed, clearly lacking in interpersonal skills and utterly unable to accept the failure of his relationship: even in the face of what transpires, he refuses to even contemplate that his ex might not have survived. Theo Trebs’s Harper never seems comfortable in his presence, this sense of unease between these two very different people adding to the tension. And an interesting tension it is, as in the early sequences the film often feels akin to a zombie version of Rear Window, with all the glimpses of the apocalypse seen from a window side viewpoint; the walking dead in the square below, the few survivors in the apartments opposite.
For the sake of the zombie purists, however, I should add that this movie probably belongs more in the 28 Days Later infected category. This is not the dead rising from the grave but a virus which, while transmittable by bites and scratches, is not limited to this. Intriugingly, here the virus may lie dormant until activated by adrenaline, hence the radio advises survivors more pointedly than usual to remain calm, and tranquiliser pills became a highly sought after commodity. And before you ask: yes, these guys are fast. Not that any of this is too significant in my book – an apocalypse in which people turn into mindless cannibals will always be just that, regardless of the whys and wherefores – but I know a lot of zombie lovers take that stuff to heart a bit more.
Also, when I said this was a little film, I wasn’t just talking about the scale and budget. With a running time that comes a couple of minutes shy of an hour, this is one of the shortest feature films I have seen in recent memory. But even so, it feels about right. Additions could easily been made which would not have felt gratuitous; fleshing out the secondary characters, or giving some flashbacks to Michael’s failed relationship perhaps. However it is ultimately this brevity, the sparseness of the dialogue and the simplicity of the action that make Siege of the Dead so appealing a film, and in a peculiar way reminscent of the great horror movies of the 30s and 40s which similarly tended to run at about 60 minutes. It’s very refreshing to see a modern genre film that does not lapse into backstory overkill and is content to leave a great deal left unsaid.
As with the innumerable zombie films of recent memory, Siege of the Dead does not significantly reinvent the subgenre, but unlike a great many it manages to inject just enough new life and new ideas into proceedings to stand apart. More importantly, it makes sure that we actually give a damn about the characters involved. The net result? A genuine breath of fresh air that’s definitely worth a look.