We zombie fans can usually agree on the merits, or lack thereof, of most films. (I think we can safely say that DAWN OF THE DEAD--good; LAND OF THE DEAD, not so good.) Of course, opinions vary, and that's the beauty of an experiment like this, but I can't think of a film that garnered as many contradictory statements as the 2005 Australian import UNDEAD; from what I'd heard the film was either a supremely imaginative take on the zombie genre or an over-hyped mess that's not as good as its reputation suggests. (The fact that I waited until now to finally see it should tell you which camp was more persuasive.) As it turns out, it's both.
The film--directed by brothers Peter and Michael Spierig, who also wrote, produced, and edited--does display a tremendous amount of creativity, in which the living dead is a by-product of the alien invasion in a quiet Australian fishing village (or is it?). The story's final reveal, which I won't ruin here, is a shining example of a twist that actually works (are you taking notes, M. Night Shyamalan?), closing in a somber note that draws inspiration from previous undead films, but refreshingly deviates enough to be its own animal. Also, the film's extensive digital trickery (supervised by the Spierig Brothers as well) is non-obtrusive and quite impressive, especially taking into account the obviously limited budget.
Unfortunately, UNDEAD's narrative and visual panache are almost smothered beneath its many missteps. The '50s sci-fi vibe that it wants to emulate never quite meshes with the Sam Raimi/Peter Jackson approach of the directors (nor are the few inspired moments of gore sufficient to capture their energy). But the movie's biggest problem is its cast, which--aside from the brief fleshing-out of a couple of principals--is one-dimensional and annoying. They're prone to bickering and yelling a lot, which makes many of the dialogue exchanges well nigh impossible to sit through; when the characters seek refuge in an underground bomb shelter, I wanted to stay above with the zombies (and would have, if I were sharing their predicament). Even the Aussie equivalent of Ash is lacking, probably because of his cliched dialogue and his resemblance to Torgo from MANOS, THE HANDS OF FATE.
Not quite as quirky as it strives to be, UNDEAD is more concerned with throwing out ideas than exploring them (though at least they're good ideas). Though it exercises some sorely-needed imagination, its often grating execution weakens the sharper elements of this production.