With recent releases like “Inside” and “Martyrs”, the French have tackled moribund American horror subgenres (slashers and torture flicks, respectively) and breathed new life into them by taking them in new and unexpected places, so it stands to reason that a Gallic take on the aging and overdone zombie trend of the last few years would be exciting and invigorating. “The Horde” bucks the trend by taking a potentially winning premise and blowing it by never being anything more than a decent-looking but ultimately unspectacular braindead shambler in the already crowded throng of zombie movies.
The setup to “The Horde” holds the promise of a great zombie flick: a group of loose cannon cops don ski-masks and set out for a notoriously dangerous housing project to dole out some Vic Mackey-style justice to a gang that has killed one of their fellow officers. The plan goes awry, though, and just as the cops are about to take an execution-style bullet to the back of the head, a zombie outbreak happens and the film pulls a genre-switch straight out of “From Dusk Til Dawn”. The survivors escape to the roof of the hi-rise and make a gentleman’s agreement to put aside their differences and fight their way down and out of the building together. Not the most original plot, no, but it has tons of potential for the kind of conflict, drama and massive zombie-slaughter set-pieces which could elevate this movie over the dozens of other zombie movies wandering around the horror DVD racks at Best Buy.
That potential is largely wasted, though, because the film inexplicably manages to skimp on both characterization and ass-kicking. The biggest problem with the characters is that across the board they’re all one-dimensional and unlikeable. I have no problem with non-heroic protagonists, but I do have a problem with a survival horror movie that expects the audience to invest emotional stock in terrible human beings. The cops and the criminals alike are so nasty and morally bankrupt that it’s hard to have much reaction at all when one of them gets killed. Midway through the film the characters meet up with another survivor, a delusional old man plagued by Viet Nam flashbacks who uses inappropriate (in more than one way) racial epithets for the zombies and happily joins in with the others when they consider raping a female zombie for no apparent reason other than because they can. Stay classy, “The Horde”.
Of course, all this whining about the characters would be a moot point if the movie delivered the goods when it came to pure zombie mayhem. It does better on this count, but there’s surprisingly little in the way of action scenes and almost all of them come after the one hour mark. One of the biggest gripes I have about the zombies themselves is they’re portrayed inconsistently. These are the new school running zombies, but some of them have superhuman strength and can single-handedly fight off a whole band of heavily armed cops and robbers while others are more traditionally frail and easy to kill. There are some cool action sequences, like when one of the cops fights off a surging mass of zombies from the roof of a car, but these scenes come too little and too late to save the movie.
Ultimately the film feels as quick and disposable as a game of Left 4 Dead with the tongue-in-cheek humor taken out and extra-long cut scenes added in. The one possible benefit of having a movie with no clear protagonist for the audience to root for is that it makes it a little less obvious who is going to live and who is going to die, but the film blows that opportunity by going for a “twist” ending that is blatantly telegraphed throughout the movie. This unsurprising twist not only makes it easy to predict the ending, but also kills the one element of suspense the movie had going for it because the twist is only possible if certain characters survive.
As far as zombie movies go, you could do a lot worse than “The Horde”, which says more about the quality of most modern zombie movies than it does about this movie. If after nearly a decade of diminishing returns you still can’t get enough of zombies, then you’ll probably appreciate “The Horde” because, in a seemingly endless sea of fetid zombie movie turds, this is a slightly nicer turd that floats. If you’re like me and the only zombies you can muster some interest in at this point are ones that are directed by Frank Darabont and coming out on Halloween, then you can safely let “The Horde” shuffle right past you.