Neuchâtel 2022 Review: DAY ZERO, Battling Filipino Zombies With a Purpose
Brandon Vera, Pepe Herrera, MJ Lastimosa and Joey Marquez star in director Joey De Guzman's fresh action-horror thriller.
Filipino zombies are not like you and me.
The film enjoys its world premiere at the Neuchâtell International Fantastic Film Festival.
Having spent the past eight years locked up in prison, Emon (Brandon Vera) has learned a thing or two.
Most importantly, he has learned not to cause any trouble. As a tall, muscular man, his very appearance is likely intimidating to other prisoners, yet he displays a mild and peaceful spirit, exercising self-control to avoid getting into unnecessary fights. When push comes to shove, however, Emon will always be there for his friend and fellow prisoner Timoy (Pepe Herrera) as he awaits the time when he can be reunited with his dear wife Sheryl and their darling daughter, Jane.
Sheryl's hopes for a happy reunion have been dwindling lately, though, and Emon's latest phone call, explaining his defense of his friend Timoy and his resultant toss into solitary confinement, does little to assuage Sheryl's concerns that Emon will ever be ready to be a father to Jane, who is deaf and desperately wants both her parents home at her side.
Then everyone starts turning into zombies and domestic concerns are pushed to a back burner.
The prison doors swing open and the convicts are set free, only to immediately begin falling victim to a swarm of zombies who come out of nowhere, apparently. The script by Ays De Guzman is not big on specifics or explanations, but, really, if a zombie suddenly appears, ravenously intent on chewing your flesh, will you take time to ask for their origin story first?
Of course not! Very sensibly, director Joey De Guzman pushes the dial past 11 to capture the initial frenzied reaction by everyone to their new and precarious situation. Emon grabs Timoy and they head home, killing zombies with whatever sharp instrument presents itself. In search of his family, they team up with a young man named David, who is also searching for his family, especially his father (Joey Marquez).
Sheryl and Jane, meanwhile, have raced for freedom but were almost immediately separated. Eventually, everyone's families reunite, though their fates take very different and (mostly) unexpected paths.
In a zombie movie, we've become accustomed to survivors quickly turning on each other; they end up battling each other as much as they fight the inevitable zombie hordes. What's different in Day Zero is that, initially, and for quite a while, the few survivors endeavor to help each other.
This seems to me to be a more hopeful, and, dare I say, realistic situation; survivors of real-life disasters typically are far more helpful to fellow survivors than anything I've ever seen in a cinematic disaster movie. Granted, this is still a zombie movie, and it spurts and spits out blood and body parts nearly continuously and in great volume throughout its running time, wisely keeping the action indoors within increasingly claustrophobic corridors and rooms. De Guzman balances the movie on a seesaw, whipping through action sequences and then pausing for dramatic scenes, allowing father and daughter to connect through sign language as they dodge zombies left and right.
Brandon Vera makes for a very appealing hero. He is big and tough and moves well and kills zombies without hesitation, yet is also persuasive as a loving father who knows that he has sometimes done things wrong as far as his family is concerned.
He wants to make things right; he wants to prove that he can be a good husband to Sheryl and a good father to Jane. First, though, he has to kill a lot of zombies.