So, Greek zombie flick Evil In The Time Of Heroes. Where to start? It's ridiculous, frequently abandons any pretence of making logical sense, sticks two fingers up at audience expectations and includes Billy Zane, for no apparent reason. It's also one of the most purely entertaining genre films in years. That's a rather more subjective judgement than usual, given Heroes comes with some nasty flaws, but it's so consistently, hysterically audacious and stupidly excessive it's very difficult not to love it regardless.
Confusing, perhaps, but let's shorten it to Heroes as technically this is the sequel to the earlier Evil - no subtitle, little seen outside of Greece. (Though it's really not necessary to have seen the first to appreciate the second.) So to be fair to Heroes, it makes no bones about being a work of absolute fantasy where plot is practically superfluous, and once it's got the opening flashback out of the way it rarely lets up.
Flashback? There are two storylines running parallel, the present-day leads fleeing the undead hordes and their analogues thousands of years ago in ancient Greece, but neither is ever really fully explained. There's barely any exposition for either beyond 'Suddenly, zombies! Thousands of them!'. Both feature a band of heroes thrown together by fate, with the present group (relatively) ordinary souls jolted out of their day-to-day lives in Athens to fight the undead and contain their source, who then encounter the mysterious time-travelling prophet (Billy Zane) who turns up to resurrect their fallen clownish friend so he can fulfil his destiny as the only man who can stop the evil. Or something.
The cartoonish grand guignol and po-faced melodrama of the opening flashback is a clue, but from the moment the film cheerfully pulls a missing-reel gag barely fifteen minutes in (cutting straight from 'We'll never escape!' to 'That was a clever escape, wasn't it?') it becomes obvious director Yorgos Noussias is far more concerned with showing the audience the next demented idea he's thought of than he is with tying each of them together.
What stops it from descending into grinding self-indulgence? The production values help; while the budget is still minute by many standards Noussias is clearly a talented, if somewhat over-enthusiastic director. Along with DPs Claudio Bolivar and Petros Nousias he uses the setting to great effect, shooting in a gritty, oily, saturated palette bleached by the sun, and throwing in some surprisingly epic wide or overhead shots of the city. The excellent score, too, delivers just the right amount of pretentious bombast without ever taking itself too seriously.
The cast are also clearly having fun. While none are particularly well-known overseas, if at all, most of the leads have several Greek film and television credits and take to their roles with aplomb, treating preening action stuntwork, pratfalls and soulful heart-to-hearts with equal parts seriousness and beautifully comic dedication. This works on multiple levels; it bears repeating Heroes is not remotely serious, yet everyone on screen is so comfortable with the material the melodrama comes off as surprisingly affecting. The characters are obvious cartoons, but nuanced and winning with it.
The whole thing is not unlike Pornchai Hongrattanaporn's work on Bangkok Loco, from the ludicrously excessive gore to the strait-laced performances to the gleeful vulgarity to the inexplicable non-sequiturs. Words don't do it justice but the cause of the rivalry between the dashing special forces officer and a leering bandit chief, say, turns out to be the bandit denied the squaddie a parking space at the supermarket and insulted his mother. As if this wasn't weird enough come the flashback showing this, mother and son are both played by Andreas Kontopoulos, once in civvies, once in drag (as seen in the trailer). Why? No reason.
What brings it down? It's difficult to decide whether Heroes is too weird or not quite bizarre enough, but unlike Bangkok Loco it definitely lacks that certain something which would make all this more than the sum of its parts. While there's the bare outline of a story, and the film moves through a rough three-act structure towards a climax which is certainly fun to watch, it's hard to escape the feeling that on some level Noussias isn't really bothered what happens.
playacting is frequently fantastic and the character development,
such as it is, has enough of a kick to it we care about these people,
but there's simply not enough connecting one scene to the next to
build on that to any real extent. Tsui Hark would have had a field
day; Noussias isn't yet good enough to make ninety minutes of lunacy
into one coherent whole. Some people sitting down to Heroes will
definitely be driven to distraction, even walking out inside half an
hour. But it still comes recommended - for those in the mood (and
with the stomach) to put up with it, Evil In The Time Of Heroes could well (briefly) feel like the
funniest thing they've ever seen.
(Evil In The Time Of Heroes was screened as part of Manchester's Grimm Up North 2010.)