Sunday, 9 November 2008

Deadlands 2: Trapped...

Well here we are, after the rather bloody successful Deadlands: The Rising (a true case of indie spirit - a bunch of mates get together, learn as they go, and put out a cheap-but-full-of-scope slice of zombie mayhem). So great stuff indeed ... even if the zeds do run (I'm firmly in the 'shambler camp' - that said however, Deadlands and recently Dead Set are my exceptions).

I remember describing the original Deadlands, at one point, as a "technical lava lamp" ... I think what I was meaning by that (whilst also day-dreaming of pulling out my own lava lamp from the cupboard), is that Deadlands was a melting pot of attention-grabbing, learn-as-you-go, full-on indie spirit.

Deadlands 2: Trapped is similar in its success - only this time everything is ratcheted up several notches, displaying in abundance Writer/Director (and a few other titles) Gary Ugarek's dedication to improving on his craft as a filmmaker. Not to say Deadlands: The Rising was bad (I've been a staunch pro-ponent of the flick), but Deadlands 2 is leaps and bounds beyond it.

The cinematography and editing are two distinctly immediate slabs of improvement served up to your eyes. The pace is tight throughout, the coverage is more organised, and the camerawork itself - again, nothing but improvement. At times, the 24-like quiver amplifies the power of the more violent scenes, helping to sell a genuine sense of "oh fuck!" when the zeds storm a military checkpoint for example, or capturing a war of words among our cinema-dwelling protagonists.

Plot wise, it goes like this - some rather unsavory government types are up to no good with a secret biological test, which as any good zombie flick hound knows doesn't go too well ... or does it? Caught in the middle however, are your average and everyday middle-Americans either working the register at the Hagerstown 10 cinema, or out for a night of bar-hopping.

The characters are fleshed out fully in the first act, and are performed well - especially for an indie production. Obviously, you're not going to find Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino burning up the screen over a cup of coffee, but anyone expecting such things from the indie scene simply don't understand the scene. That said, even the non-professional turns dotted here and there stand up against other similarly grounded flicks - but its the central performances that shine. Jim "helicopter zombie" Krut brings the suit-and-tie-menace in gleeful abundance as the diabolical biological project leader, and Durbin, Davidson, Clark, Young and Brush all push their respective boats out.

Excuse my inability with connecting names to faces, but 'dude with the cap' and 'chick with all the ear-rings' were absolutely superb, they grasped the intensity of the situation at hand, the over all "we're fucked" nature of proceedings and delivered performances that punch above the usual indie belt. I'll be honest, I got a few chills up and down my spine during the more explosive scenes.

One of the things that most excites me about Deadlands (the original, and now this sequel), is that sensation of people at the start of their careers (be it in front of, or behind the cameras). This is certainly no truer than the case of the young lads behind Spaghetti Industries - these guys serve up some fantastic, blood-soaked moments of gore.

Finally - scale - there's a boat-load of the stuff, and considering the budget (even lower than Deadlands, which wasn't exactly surfing on the budget of Heaven's Gate) it's incredible to see so much on offer, again leading Deadlands 2: Trapped to punch above the usual indie belt - especially on such a small budget (just to hammer the point home).

Any bad? To be honest there's not much point focussing on any minor, fleeting issues all that much. The political stance of the film (during certain scenes) occasionally strays into blunt-force territory, some dialogue doesn't quite roll off the tongue, and (as a filmmaker myself, at the relative start of my career admittedly) I noticed a few editing issues here and there that I would have tweaked or perhaps done slightly different - but that last point shouldn't bother the vast majority, that's just the filmmaker inside me talking.

What's that pedantic filmmaker amidst my juicy viscera saying? The odd audio issue (e.g. quiet car journeys, the occasional scream bursting forth a bit too loudly, the odd moments of the audio mix being a bit out-of-synch or levelled inconsistently) - the occasional edit issue (e.g. the odd shot appearing grey in comparison to the gloriously deep blacks throughout, and the final moment - which I'd have edited slightly differently...but then again, Gary isn't me and I'm not Gary, so that's purely personal editing choices & styles).

But as previously stated, said issues are piffling in the face of a properly successful, and properly indie-spirited venture - roll on Deadlands 3!


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