Night of the Living Deb By now, almost every genre and sub-genre imaginable has been redone as a zombie movie … there are even multiple entries in the zombie romantic comedy (zom-rom-com), includng Braindead, Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies. This breezy, small-scale picture from director-writer Kyle Rankin (Infestation, Nuclear Family) excludes the angst that drives earlier z-r-c entries and goes for a sweet, light, genuinely charming tone. In a bar in Portland, Maine, on the Eve of the 4th of July, red-headed ditzy Deb Clarington (Maria Thayer), a camerawoman at the local news channel, is encouraged by her plus-sized friend Ruby (Julie Brister) to approach handsome Ryan Waverly (Michael Cassidy), who happens to be having an argument with his gorgeous but nasty fiancée Stacy (Syd Wilder). Though she makes an ass of herself, she is nervously amusing and somehow gets taken back to Ryan’s apartment … the next morning, they awake to find that the town has been struck by a water-borne zombie plague and most people are staggering around in search of human flesh.
The film consistently pokes fun at zombie conventions, with the vegan, health-conscious hero very unwilling to shoot infectees in the brain in case there’s a cure and a neat set of plot twists built on the fact that the infection-by-bite depicted in 90% of zombie movies is medically very unlikely (‘you’d have to have a gushing wound actually inside your mouth and even then …’). Thayer, who has been a supporting comedienne in the likes of Forgetting Sarah Marshall but is here promoted to star, makes an amusing, likeable, sexy heroine and there’s a certain Bringing Up Baby touch to her teasing of the uptight Ryan, who turns out to be the estranged scion of the pollutuing water company tycoon (Ray Wise, an always-welcome Rankin regular) who is responsible for the plague in the first place and more concerned with keeping the fact quiet that doing anything to help save the town. Deb is on the sidelines as the Waverly family – including goonish brother Chaz (Chris Marquette), eager to go into survivalist shoot ‘em in the brain mode – and the snippy Stacy continue their longstanding arguments as drooling, brain-hungry zombies stumble after them.
The third act allows a redemptive arc for the leads, as Deb gets to fulfil her lifelong ambition to be in front of the camera to broadcast the news from inside the quarantine zone – but there are also good jokes about the zombified staff of the local TV station, including an ever-smiling newslady whose face is full of so much botox she can’t rot. It has gore gags and a few trace elements of poignance, but mostly keeps the tone charming and funny. Given the wide acceptance of zombie movies, this ought to find an appreciative audience as a change of pace within an overcrowded sub-genre. Author Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) has an amusing cameo as a book-hawking pundit in a satirical montage of media reactions to Deb’s broadcast revelations. Co-written by Andy Selsor.