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Short Film Review: Play Dead

It’s not easy to come up with a new way to look at the zombie apocalypse. I mean, the topic’s pretty well mined at this point. Now, I’m not going to say that I’ve seen every single zombie apocalypse show, film, story, or musical, but I’ve heard about enough of them.

And I hadn’t heard of anything like Play Dead.

Play Dead is the story of the survivors of a zombie apocalypse in Miami, Florida. A short film made on-location, it follows this unlikely group of survivors as they escape the zombies, band together, and seek out a place where they can ride out the chaos until it ends.

Oh, yeah, and these survivors? They’re all dogs.

Funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign in April 2011, Play Dead billed itself as “Homeward Bound meets a zombie apocalypse”. The film was produced and directed by the Borscht Corporation, which is based in Miami and aims to showcase stories told there. Directed by the Meza brothers, it features a lot of close-up shots, some pretty standard zombie makeup, the “moves very fast a la 28 Days Later” style of creature, and a very good original soundtrack which features songs by, among others, Rachel Goodrich and Amigo the Devil. I didn’t see anything really new in the filmmaking itself, but I will say that the way the artists told the story kept me interested the entire time. I think a lot of that was due to the use of dogs as the main characters.

Whether you love or hate dogs, it’s hard to deny that the addition of a canine to any cast can instantly get an audience onto the dog’s favorite person’s side. When the dogs themselves are the stars of the piece, you get the additional ability to tell the story without words, thereby forcing the viewer to pay closer attention to what’s happening on the screen.

The canine cast includes:

  • Robocop, a junkyard Labrador Retriever
  • Diva, a Border Collie who’s never been off her leash
  • Princess, a small yappy-type dog owned by some sort of famous person
  • Nemo, a Jack Russell who’s never been in love
  • Haley, a mutt who loves zombie flesh but hates “the diarrhea”

Robocop

Each of the dogs in the story brings something important to the table. Robocop and Diva join up early-on — Diva still attached to her owner by her leash, which leads to a pretty funny scene involving some dog biscuits. Princess escapes her owner and is found by Nemo, who tries to win her heart. Haley, who we see at the beginning of the film, doesn’t appear until much later and we never really know what she’s been doing all this time. Though the dogs are brought together by fate, chance, and luck, they aren’t actually working together per se until the very end when they realize that humanity might not have their best interests at heart — told through a scene that will make any dog lover (or even dog liker) want to hurl the monitor across the room.

And then, of course, when the final crew meets up (accompanied by a great music cue from composer Colin Frangicetto), they discover that zombies and humans aren’t the only ones they have to fight.

The human actors in the film include Eric Anderson as the radio DJ, Tommy Groth as the leader of a group of human survivors, Annilie Hastey as the “supposed to be Paris Hilton” character, and Carmela Zumbado in an excellent turn as Diva’s owner. While none of them are main characters (except, in a way, Zumbado), they all influence the dogs around them to behave in certain fashions. Nemo watches Eric as he fights the zombies; Robocop leads the pack when Groth’s character does the unspeakable; Princess sees Hastey’s character and just wants her mommy back; and I’m not telling you what Diva does to Zumbado’s character because it’s too good to spoil. Suffice it to say that they both obey the leash laws.

Haley and her owner, played by Melvin Lima

If I had any issue with Play Dead, it was with the ending, and to avoid spoilers, I’m going to cipher the text. Go to ROT13.com to decipher it.

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Play Dead is only 18 minutes long (including the credits), and it’s worth your time to check it out. The film is currently available for free on Vimeo. It really showcases just how good a movie anyone can make with a relatively-limited budget and an unlimited amount of passion. While it doesn’t tread much new ground in the zombie genre (except for the dogs), you won’t ask for your 18 minutes back when it’s over. And maybe, if you’ve got an idea for a movie starring a dog, you’ll see that it’s possible to make it yourself instead of just letting it live forever in your head.

The world, after all, needs more good movies about dogs.

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Note to Parents: This film contains adult language and graphic violence. It also contains violence against animals. Anyone who’s played a zombie invasion video game won’t see anything worse in this film than they’ve already seen before, so if your teens are already blowing off heads in Left 4 Dead or similar, they should be okay. Of course, you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your children.

All photos are from the film’s Kickstarter page.

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