When George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead first hit cinemas in 1968, it was revolutionary not just for the horror genre, but the industry as a whole. Although the undead have been around for a while, Romero gives them a unique story laden with interesting characters and poignant commentary. Following Night of the Living Dead, it seems like every horror filmmaker has been striving to reinvent zombies—or stories centred around them—on their own terms since. Some, like Even Husby Grødhal’s Downs of the Dead (2019), are an absolute success while others, like Lars Damoiseaux’s Yummy (2019), are not.
Downs of the Dead an Unexpected Success
Given the title of this 23-minute flick, it’s easy to worry that this film is going to be offensive or make light of individuals with Down’s Syndrome. Thankfully, Down’s of the Dead is a charming Norwegian short that follows the journey of Morten (David Vekony), a nurse at a care home for the intellectually disabled, who’s forced to work a double shift during the holidays while a zombie outbreak erupts around them. Although Morten is eager to flee the facility for safety, he refuses to leave the residents—including his friend Arvid (Svein André Hofsø Myhre)—behind. The film concludes with a wonderful confession between the two young men that’s more heartwarming than it is revelatory.
Downs of the Dead is a touching piece about doing what’s right, finding where you belong, and treating others with the respect and kindness that you’d want to be treated with. The friendship between Morten and Arvid feels genuine, despite Morten being one of his caretakers, and you get a real sense of the bonds that have been formed between the other house members. There’s also a nice shift in Morten’s motivations, with him first doing his best to appeal to his coworker and then being motivated out of his love, not obligation, for the residents.
The film features A+ representation and inclusion of people with Down’s Syndrome, which is a delight to see in cinema. They writers—Grødhal and Jesper Breen Frilseth—also do a fantastic job of building characters that the audience will enjoy, even when they dislike them. Another of the movie’s strengths is its ability to deliver on jokes which have been set up early on in the work. (An especially hilarious bit comes at the film’s conclusion, and involves a mattress that was thrown out of Arvid’s window during one of the initial scenes.)
The biggest gripe audiences may have with Downs of the Dead is its lack of connection to the title’s source material. Although both works feature the undead, there’s little beyond that to tie the works together. And, given how painfully overdone zombie flicks can be, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Light on scares, but full of heart, this is definitely worth a watch.
… While Yummy is a Predictable Bore
Unlike Downs of the Dead, Damoiseaux’s Yummy is a movie that offers nothing new or exciting about zombies, or even filmmaking for that matter. The film follows the story of Alison (Maaike Neuville) as she travels to a hospital in Eastern Europe for a breast reduction. Unfortunately for her, her judgemental mother (Annick Christiaens), and her hemophobic boyfriend named Michael (Bart Hollanders), all hell breaks out when an experiment goes wrong and a patient gets loose.
Yummy is exactly the gore-filled flick you expect it to be. The amount of over-the-top violence, copious amounts of blood, and avoidable deaths feel like they’re straight out of the early 2000s (think Thir13en Ghosts or Ghost Ship). Unfortunately, because this level of brutality is so familiar to the horror genre there’s nothing especially shocking about any of it. Everything from a woman without lips and people exploding, to an arm being put through a paper shredder and fingers amputated with broken glass feels like it’s been done before. Even the jump scares are predictable, the sharp and sudden swell of violins doing little to provoke scares from viewers.
The movie is also heavy-handed with unnecessary nudity, lewd jokes that don’t add anything to the story, and characters you can’t help but hate. In one particularly annoying moment that combines all three, a celebrity (who’s recently undergone penis enlargement surgery) decides to have sex with another patient hiding from the zombies. Unfortunately for him, he first puts his genitals under a stream of boiling water, accidentally has it set on fire while applying burn cream, and finally watches as the tip of it falls off after the fire is put out. Then, in what can only be the pièce de résistance of the scene, the celebrity decides he needs medical attention immediately and walks pantless into a hallway he knows is packed with hungry monsters.
The conclusion to the film also leaves audiences frustrated and unsatisfied. While Alison and Michael have done everything in their power to successfully avoid being eaten by zombies, the two are killed in a car accident at the end of the movie. In addition to it being an ending that does little to satiate viewers, it logistically doesn’t make sense and has no place in the narrative. While some may consider this a callback to an earlier scene in which Michael hits an animal with his car, it feels painfully detached from the central narrative and does nothing but force the story to an abrupt close. It’s a frustrating mess of a movie that will have you wishing someone would take a fire axe to your head.
If you’re looking to catch a zombie film in the near future, or if you’re stocking up on creature feature titles to watch this October, be sure to add Downs of the Dead to your list, but consider giving Yummy a hard pass.
The Fantasia International Film Festival’s virtual event is composed of scheduled live screenings, panels, and workshops, taking place from August 20th to September 2nd, 2020. For more information, visit the Fantasia Film Festival website.