Australia. Directed by Kosta Ouzas & Nick Kozakis, 2015. Starring Tegan Crowley, Scott Marcus, Steven Kennedy. 84 minutes.
Another zombie apocalypse. (Okay, if you insist: another plague-that-makes-people-behave-like-zombies apocalypse.) Evie (Tegan Crowley) hides out with a small group of survivors at a rural farmhouse. Days earlier, they became separated from Evie’s husband John (Scott Marcus), and have been waiting for him to arrive at this prearranged rendezvous point. The others feel it’s time to move on, but Evie doesn’t agree. Can she make it on her own until John finally arrives? And can she trust her fellow survivors?
In terms of plotting and thematics, Plague doesn’t offer any bold twists on the zombie-apocalypse template; if you’ve watched your fair share of zombie movies, you will find very little to surprise you here. The one exception: writer/co-director Kosta Ouzas and co-director Nick Kozakis keep the zombies on the sidelines as much as possible, only appearing in a couple of scenes.
By doing so, Ouzas and Kozakis intensify the focus on the conflicts between the survivors, a staple of the formula since Night of the Living Dead. Not satisfied following the human-conflict tropes, the filmmakers put them under a microscope and examine them in detail. The grossest scene in the film–a film that deploys gore minimally but graphically–comes at the climax of a conflict between two uninfected characters, with nary a shambling flesh-eater in sight. That single fact, more than any other, defines the film. I can’t think of another zombie movie with so few zombies in it. They are almost incidental to the story.
As a character study, then, Plague largely succeeds. Ouzas paints the characters in spare but broad strokes, leaving the main actors–Crowley, Marcus, and later, Steven Kennedy as Charlie, a survivor who comes upon the farm later in the film–space to embody their roles. This particular tactic doesn’t always work, but Crowley has the skill to carry the picture, and Kennedy plays his part so well that even though you should notice straight off that Charlie’s a total creep, the reveal contains a good deal of shock value.
As for Marcus, he doesn’t seem entirely able to keep up with his co-stars, but that could just be the nature of John as a character–the eternal beta-male, forever overpowered by the stronger personalities that surround him. It’s at the point when John finally decides to assert himself that Plague jumps the tracks somewhat, taking its focus off Evie for too long. From there, events progress to an ending I didn’t quite understand, from a dramatic point of view. (Or: I get what happened, but I don’t get why it had to happen.)
Even in its weaker moments, Ouzas and Kozakis keep the tension pegged at high levels, with enchanting yet lonely cinematography of stark rural Australian vistas underlining the desperation of the situation. I can readily believe that these might very well be the last people on Earth.
Plague is a particularly dark and grim entry in the zombie-apocalypse canon; while zombie aficionados may find it a bit too light on the shambling flesh-eaters, its unflinching depiction of emotional violence makes it worth seeking out, even with its uneven final act.