Most zombie films tend to be average to outright awful. It’s a subgenre of horror that’s easy to make thus we get many aspiring amateur filmmakers thinking that they could create the next Night of the Living Dead with just a HD videocam, a few dollars for a budget and acquaintances and family to create a cast and crew. With that formula in hand it’s no wonder that most zombie films film the bottom of the horror film genre when it comes to quality. But once in awhile we get real quality releases. Edgar Wright was able to release an instant classic with his zomromcom, Shaun of the Dead, and even Zack Snyder was able to come out with an action-packed remake of Romero’s seminal classic, Dawn of the Dead.
The 2009 French horror film La Horde (The Horde) is more like Snyder’s film in that it does away with any sort of societal and cultural commentaries in the guise of a zombie film and instead goes straight for the action and gore. One would think this makes for a brainless and not-so-entertaining film. In fact, La Horde ends up being as much fun as Snyder’s film and just as nihilistic, if not moreso by the film’s end.
French filmmakers Benjamin Rocher and Yannick Dahan craft an action-horror film that spends little time with any sort of soft preamble to set-up the rest of the film. The film’s story was quite simple. A group of French police officers f(most like narcotics officers) plan on exacting revenge on a Nigerian crimelord who was instrumental in the death of one of their own (the aftermath of which starts the film). The setting of their planned retribution is the rundown and dilapidated apartment-housing tower complex on a crime-ridden section of Paris. Not all goes according to plan as the group’s plan to ambush their quarry goes awry the moment they’re about to spring it. What seemed like a gritty, crime thriller during 15-20 minutes of La Horde suddenly takes a massive 180 degrees as the two groups of police and gangsters must now try to join together to survive the sudden arrival of a zombie apocalypse sweeping through Paris and most of the country if not the world.
The action and gore once the zombies enter the narrative comes fast, brutal and exceptionally staged. Peripheral characters were quickly removed from play and the group gets whittled down into the most able to survive a tenement tower complex suddenly filling up with zombies of the Zack Snyder and Danny Boyle sprinting variety. These types of running, aggressive zombies might turn off some of the more hardcore Romero zombie purist, but in how the film’s story was constructed these sprinters work. Now there’s no reason to ask how suddenly the city has hundreds, if not tens of thousands, of zombies out in the streets in less time it takes to watch a film. In fact, the film never really tries to explain the cause of the outbreak. The audience is as blind as the group in the complex with no idea of what’s going on outside of spotty TV news reports.
What we’re left with is an hour or so of non-stop action as the group tries to move down the tower floor by floor to try and find a way out of the building, into a vehicle and into a safe zone in a French military base outside of the city. It was inspired of the film’s writers to choose characters whose chosen profession requires of them to be able tap into violent aggression in order to survive. There’s no need to suspend one’s disbelief that a narcotics officer or a crime-hardened gangster would do whatever it takes to survive. Even the one person who lives in the tower they encounter and happened to survive as long as the group has brings a certain violent past history and skill set to the group.
The film doesn’t have very complex characters and if the action on the screen wasn’t so well-done most audiences would see through the seams in the story and simple characters. La Horde goes through all the film’s flaws from minor to glaring like a runaway freight train. The film won’t allow it’s audience to settle down and breathe (thus think about the film’s story beyond the zombie outbreak) until the very last frame and even then one has been entertained that they might be willing to forgive the film’s flaws. Even the characters work in the film’s favor despite being one-dimensional for the most part (the cool-headed officer Oussme played by Jean-Pierre Martins and the crimelord Markudi, played by Eriq Ebouanay, get some layers of complexity) as we’re more concerned about whether the group would be able to make it through the night or not.
La Horde never got a major release in the United States, but did make the genre film festival circuit in 2010 so fans of the zombie subgenre knew all about this film. The question would whether this film would appeal to those outside of that niche of horror fans. From what I saw it definitely would appeal to fans of not just zombie horror, but horror in general. Even fans of action films would get a kick out of this film. This film gets a major recommendation and should entertain from beginning to end.