‘Redcon-1’: “machine gun ideas Vs. the zombie movie”
A thousand different websites for a thousand different zombie movies all say the same thing, this is one monster who has been exhausted way past breaking point. In other news, rain is wet and snow is cold. I mock but in the past twenty years, you could probably pick about 10 movies that are in any way interesting with the rest being white noise. Gore is played out, the same stories have been played out, its the same across the board. So allow me to present a new status quo for this most threadbare of movie monsters, ideas. Take two of the better titles from recent years (girl with all the gifts and Pontypool), they work because they are using the undead as a vehicle for genre concepts. It may take a little while to get there, but Redcon-1 too is a movie of ideas.
During the first 30 minutes, it’s pretty hard to get on board with this movie. Its director, Chee Keong Cheung, peddles out a succession of the base zombie tropes as presented by the sort of shoot-em-up mechanics made famous by arcade shooter House of the Dead (ignore the movie). The central military squad is subjected to two ambushes on the bounce that exhausted me, especially with that kinetic metal soundtrack. As I alluded to earlier this is one of the ideas that the movie employs, and that is just the first one. Before any of that though, what is Redcon-1. This is Chee Keong Cheung’s third release following up two poorly received crime movies in 2007 and 2008, with a decade away from the director’s chair he returns with what I can only describe as Escape from New York with Zombies. In which a squad of American soldiers is sent into the British quarantine zone (in London) to retrieve a doctor who unleashed a ‘cannibalistic rage’ virus. Yes, fast zombies, and yes, it is slightly derivative but as I brought up earlier there is nowhere else for these movies to go so instead of new plots and nastier gore, these films need to strive for something fresher, ideas. Calling it 28 days later meets doomsday would be to overlook the goodwill this was developed with, anyway, even if you chose to frame it this way many Italian exploitation movies of the 1970s operated by the same rules and they’ve become cult favourites across the board.
I can’t avoid meandering into spoilers here as just merely claiming that a movie has a laundry list of ideas isn’t really enough to paint a picture. It starts off as men on a mission picture with heavily video-game-like flourishes, from which the script questions the loyalty of soldiers following orders no matter what they are or how reprehensible they may be. They aren’t just fast zombies, they are evolving fast zombies in a move that picks up the baton from Romero’s [unfairly criticised] Land of the Dead, here that idea develops from a Mad Max-like society of survivalists and zombies who scan closer to the semi-intelligent vampires in Dusk till Dawn (with no off switch). That’s not all, in the place where other zombies movies end this one opens up again. I can appreciate why people may be turned off by this sort of frenetic storytelling, crossing a mini-series worth in the space of two hours. It is loaded, after all. Personally, I enjoyed it more and more the longer it ran especially when this fluidity is buoyed by an impressive ambition in bringing this world to life. Of course this a low budget film, there can be no avoiding that, however, not once do they let that hamper proceedings. Shooting such expansive scenes on-location shoots too, credit where it is due. Other directors would minimalise the story, slow the pace right down and make the end product more thoughtful and far less bombastic. Redcon-1 is a constantly evolving project that shows an ambitious director at its centre who isn’t willing to temper his ideas because the production lacks finances, no – he jumps in feet first. Kudos.
As fascinating as I found the action-horror of Redcon-1, it isn’t well-acted (yet it still manages to be moving) or characterised outside of the male lead, the metal soundtrack used to score the action is legitimately terrible, the cinematography is rather tepid, and it could have done with a few more moments of quiet. Still, in the grand scheme of zombie cinema, I would take a thousand ambitious, well-intentioned and fluid if limited titles over one more identikit slog that only exists to house gore. This has gore too, all the same, I’d say this is one to chalk up as an all-too-rare win.