REVIEW: PORTRAIT OF A ZOMBIE (2011)
Honestly, I can’t say I can remember off-hand the last time I have seen a good zombie film that came out of Ireland. In fact, besides DEAD MEAT (2004) and BOY EATS GIRL (2005), I am having a hard time remembering anything worth mentioning. I haven’t seen DEAD MEAT (which has a Fangoria seal of approval which at the time generally meant it was a pile of shit usually) and BOY EATS GIRL was pretty cool, and probably the only one worth mentioning in the category of Irish zombie films. BOY EATS GIRL was filled with humor, as is PORTRAIT OF A ZOMBIE, another Irish zombie film shot as a documentary of sorts as a film crew follows a family that has a zombie son and decides to keep him locked up in his bedroom. The family refuses to destroy him, as they see their zombie son still as their son, one who wants to tear apart their flesh at any given moment given the chance, but one who still has human feelings…or so they think!
Bing Bailey’s PORTRAIT OF A ZOMBIE is an independent horror film that is full of as much laughs as most comedies (given the situation at hand of a family feeding and caring for their zombie son) and is filled with witty dialogue and commentaries by various citizens within the community who are being interviewed for this documentary about the Murphy family and their flesh-craving son. The zombies looked very authentic (is there such a thing as a non-authentic looking zombie??) and I thought the make-up crew did a fine job on all the walking dead.
Thinking the film was not going to be entertaining and being more resembling of a spin on the found-footage film craze and mockumentary style filmmaking that so many Indie, low-budget filmmakers choose to create for having a lack of a budget and wanting to get their foot into the filmmaking business, I was more than mildly surprised. The film starts out with candid interviews and statements made from various members of the Murphy family, citizens, and acquaintances of the family- Even the young zombie’s fiancee, Aoife McCarthy (played by Dianne Jennings), talks about how it is wanting to marry and birth a child created by what is now a zombie. Bailey, who also wrote the story with Lorand Morand Bailey (not sure exactly what the relation to the director of the same last name is), both crafted a very well-written and entertaining film. The movie covers all aspects of what most people would be thinking, family members and otherwise, if a zombie epidemic were indeed real and all the possible situations really were occurring.
There are quite a few social questions to be asked regarding laws and rules that society imposes upon its living members and do these same rules apply to its living dead members. For instance, is it ethical to be feeding the zombie? What does one feed a zombie? Is it cool to be killing live animals so they are fresh and taste better for their zombie son? Does one find it ethical to feed a zombie a recently dead human, the blood still fresh and warm to the touch? In actuality, I never really thought about any of these questions. With so many films coming out dealing with a zombie epidemic (zombies are more popular than ever now), as well as television shows, books, and comicbooks–zombies are definitely a firm part of the world’s pop culture and are referenced and used in everyday lingo, jokes, phrases, and conversations (even though zombie films have been around for more than fifty years and probably even earlier than that).
The script and the acting in PORTRAIT OF A ZOMBIE are what makes this film worth watching. If one is expecting a gorefest, this is not your film. If one is expecting a thought-provoking social commentary on what rights and rules apply when dealing with the concept of wanting to keep one’s zombified loved one chained up and treated as one of the living, then this is your film. There are moments of blood and gore, but they are far and few between.
I thought young Billy Murphy (played by Patrick Murphy) made for an ok zombie. I guess it really isn’t too difficult to be a zombie. Just moan and groan and look kinda dead. I really found the performances by Billy’s mother, Lizzy Murphy (Geraldine McAlinden) and his father Danny Murphy (Rory Mullen), to be the some of the finer performances. They really gave believable testimonies and revealed tender characters who have extremely proud loyalty to their zombie son and their family. I really had no complaints at all in regards to the acting by any of the cast. Actor Todd Fletcher played one hell of an overzealous filmmaker seeking fame and fortune from documenting this insider’s look at a family caring for their zombie son and probably treating him more human than when he was actually alive.
The film does a very nice job of balancing the footage between the family’s testimonies, the film crew’s candid thoughts and statements, and the townsfolk on what they are thinking. Thrown into the mix of the film are several scenes of citizens getting attacked and bitten by the meat-munchers, as well as bands of vigilante groups going out hunting zombies when too many of them begin to populate their idyllic community so the viewer does get some action, blood, and gore. I only wish that there was more gore more often. When dealing with flesh-eating monsters, I want to see a fair amount of flesh-eating. It is only natural to have this inclination when watching a modern-age zombie film. I read that the filmmakers’ also kept a copy of Maxx Brooks’ book ‘The Zombie Survival Guide‘ on set at all times, both for novelty purposes and “Just in case“. One can tell that the makers of the film definitely have a certain amount of “respect” for zombies, but craftily tossed in their fair does of humor elements while still respecting the gut-munchers.
I find PORTRAIT OF A ZOMBIE is be a bite above the rest of the documentary-style horror films covering this topic and shot on digital cameras. Director Baily worked into his film on a much covered topic and genre some creative story-telling, witty dialogue and characters, and give Ireland a zombie film that they can be proud of.