Saturday, December 24, 2011
The Movie: A cloud of interstellar dust has hit the Earth, causing the dead to rise as ravenous, flesh-eating zombies. This triggered the Zombie Wars, where humanity was forced to fight for its survival. However, as in the “Real World,” it took a powerful corporation to save the human race.
Zomcon came up with several innovations to insure the survival of humanity. First it determined that destroying the head will also destroy the zombie, making them much easier to fight. Second, Zomcon created the perimeter fences to surround and secure the communities; keeping out any walking corpses. Finally, and most importantly, Zomcon created the zombie control collar. These collars dampen the zombies’ hunger for human flesh, rendering them docile and controllable. Thanks to Zomcon, the greatest threat to humanity is now its greatest consumer status item; and the citizens of America are able to live and thrive in Zomcon maintained utopias.
Except that it isn’t all safe. The lingering space dust ensures that any unattended corpse will quickly rise up again as a threat to the living. Outside the community, the wild zombies continue to seek a way past the defensive perimeter. From within, there is always the risk of a control collar malfunctioning, instantly causing a formerly obedient servant to revert back to a ravenous monster. Of course, there are also the non-compliant subversives who are a threat to every community. Zomcon ensures that they are rendered harmless by exiling them to the Wild Zone.
Enter our hero, Timmy Robinson (Kesun Loder); an ordinary pre-pubescent boy. However, he is just old enough to start feeling the puppy love for his new neighbor and classmate, Cindy Bottoms (Alexia Fast). Timmy is also rather intelligent and perceptive; just enough so that he can see that his world isn’t as perfect as those around him want to believe, but he lacks the maturity and world experience to categorize it. This marks him out as “the weird kid,” and generally leaves him lonely, isolated, and bullied.
His home life isn’t much better; what with his status and appearance obsessed mother (Carrie-Anne Moss, a long way from Trinity in the Matrix), and his emotionally distant, death-obsessed, zombie-phobic father (the ubiquitous Dylan Baker of the second two Spiderman movies and the Cell). Then there are strange characters in his life such as his skeevy neighbor Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson), who has an eyebrow-raising relationship with Tammy (Sonja Bennett), his hot teenage girl zombie.
But the arrival of the new neighbors is going to change the lives of Timmy and his family in more ways than one. Cindy’s father (Henry Czerny) happens to be the new Zomcon head of security for Timmy’s town. His mother, in an attempt to get in right with the new neighbors, goes against her husband’s wishes and buys the family a zombie (Billy Connolly). Timmy quickly bonds with the zombie and dubs him “Fido.”
Unfortunately, trouble starts when Fido’s collar gets damaged and he winds up eating Mrs. Henderson (Mary Black), the nasty old woman who lives across the street. Timmy’s attempt to cover it up only brings on greater problems. Mr. Bottoms, a vicious and single-minded son-of-a-bitch, is determined to find a scapegoat…
“Now, I don’t want you to think that what we did was normal or alright in any way.”
Io Saturnalia! Merry Christmas! Happy Yule, Chanukah, Kwanza, or whatever Winter Solstice holiday you celebrate! One of the sure signs of the arrival of this time of year is the glut of feel-good family movies. Always one to put my oar into the water, for my contribution I present you with my review for Fido; a sweet, uplifting little tale of a boy and his zombie that can probably best be described as Lassie Come Home meets Dawn of the Dead.
Even though it is often labeled as such, Fido is not a horror movie; at least not of the visceral kind you find with genre horror. Instead, Fido’s horror leans toward the political. At its core, Fido is a satire. The world of the movie harkens back to an age that most people these days look upon with nostalgia and rose-colored glasses. On its surface, with a few exceptions, this world looks like the idyllic 1950s small town we see in reruns of shows like Leave it to Beaver; bright colors, consumer goods, peaceful neighborhoods and mostly well-behaved young people.
However, like actual 1950s America, there is a dark shadow to the world of Fido as well. The people who idealize this era tend to forget that it was also the time of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and a general sense of paranoia. While everybody expends their energies to keeping up an appearance of prosperity and contentment; there is still the often unvoiced fear of a Them that is out to take what they have. And bizarrely, even as it uses 1950s aesthetics, Fido also holds a mirror to post-9/11 America as well. Our Them is Islamic terrorists instead of Communists or zombies, but we continue to maintain the paranoid mindset of an outside enemy infiltrating our homes. In fact, Zomcon presents us with a great metaphor for where our society is headed (if it’s not already there); an entrenched, overly powerful corporate sector that simultaneously promises to provide us with everything we need while waving societal boogiemen in our face to scare us into not opposing them.
A lot of thought and effort went into building the society that the movie’s characters inhabit, to fascinating and terrifying effect. Guns are not only allowed at school, but their use is part of the curriculum. Old people aren’t afforded respect anymore; in fact they’re viewed as a threat, since they could potentially die and rise as a zombie at any time. And proper funerals in the world of Fido are as prohibitively costly as attending a good college is in our society. One suspects that Zomcon purposefully set it up this way. After all, zombies are now an extremely lucrative resource, despite their inherent danger; and too many proper funerals would cut into Zomcon’s profits.
Some of my favorite scenes in this movie are just shots of the world the characters live in. There are shots of sunny days in the park, complete with picnics and kids playing ball, while the household zombie carries the parasol or walks the dog. There are propagandist newsreels, which aside from the zombie content could have come right out of 1950s America. There’s a typical day at school, where the children practice with their rifles. Then there’s one of the scenes I like the best; where several zombies, under the supervision of a Zomcon minder, attempt to deliver the milk and newspapers.
As longtime readers of this blog are probably aware of, I love good characters and character development. Fortunately; in Fido, like in the original Romero zombie movies it simultaneously spoofs and pays homage to, the main focus of the movie is on the human characters. Most of the main characters are far better developed than one would expect them to be. Many of them are presented so that we first see them one way, but as the movie goes on we start to see different sides to them and get a better idea of who they are and why.
Timmy’s parents are great examples. His mom starts out looking like your typical, appearances obsessed ‘50s housewife. However, she winds up bonding with Fido as well, and becomes one of Timmy’s biggest allies in regards to him. Also, from the beginning we get some strong hints that Timmy’s father isn’t the one in charge of the family. His father, meanwhile, comes across as emotionally distant, insecure, and something of an asshole. However; as we are gradually shown, there are valid reasons for this. In fact, it eventually becomes clear that he really does love his son; and by the end Mr. Robinson actually redeems himself.
Mr. Theopolis is another great character. Our first looks at him are from the viewpoint of the rest of the community, as a somewhat sleazy degenerate. It might be noted that in most of his early appearances he comes across looking (I sincerely doubt coincidentally) like a young Huge Hefner. However, Theopolis is the first individual to notice that Timmy needs help, and immediately offers it. By the end of the movie Theopolis voluntarily winds up going above and beyond for Timmy and his family. And finally, we eventually start getting some looks at his and Tammy’s relationship that show it to be far more than what everyone thinks it is. By the end the impression is of something that is sweet and healthy, albeit still very unconventional.
The child characters don’t have quite as much range; but they're fairly simple to begin with and don’t need it. The child actors do very well; Timmy is both convincing and sympathetic, and Cindy is wonderful as the girl next door who is pretty much the exact opposite of the stereotypical girl next door. In fact, age her a decade or two and you’d have the woman of my dreams. The villain also isn’t anywhere near as complex, but he’s convincing enough. One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the knowledge that there are men exactly like him in this world.
Fido also works very well as both a satire and a black comedy. Surprisingly, it’s actually a very sweet and uplifting little movie; but the dark humor leavens it enough so that the sweetness doesn’t trigger your gag reflex. I’ve been trying to get my family to watch it for a while, but they hear “zombies” and automatically make assumptions. Sigh. Overall, Fido works as both a very fun and uplifting little movie and as a razor-sharp satire on much of what is wrong with our society.