A new Italian zombie movie — in the relatively lean, editorial/character-led tradition of Night of the Living Dead rather than a pastiche of the more fantastical, gruesome zombi orrore romps which proliferated in the ‘80s. Directed by Luna Gualano, a rare Italian woman to tackle horror, and scripted by Emiliano Rubbi, from a story co-devised with Gualano, it assumes audience familiarity with Romero-style flesh-eating ghoul contagion but that characters (with the exception of one Walking Dead fan) aren’t up on the rules. Not an approach used very often, it is effective – several scenes take a realist, credible approach to zombie siege clichés: the guy who refuses to let a doomed random in through a barricaded door and is then prostrate with agonised guilt after the luckless soul’s offscreen death … and the guy who’s up on genre convention survival tactics admitting that it’s not that easy to break someone’s head even if they are a drooling monster.
Enrico (Antonio Banno), a beaky young blackshirt, turns up to protest outside a centre for African refugees sited in Rome. The demo is overrun by what seem to be counterprotesters only for most of the crowd to turn into cannibal ghouls and attack each other – the pompous Tommy Robinson type spokesman (Giuliano Leone) is bitten on the neck by the woman TV interviewer (Giulia Gualano) who was nodding along to his anti-migrant rants. Showing a wily, wiry practical streak, Enrico ditches his fascist insignia and takes refuge in the centre with the asylum seekers – some of whom have their own honed survival skills. Gualano doesn’t overdo the zombie attacks, and relatively few extras mill about outside while Enrico is getting to know various people – a medical student (Awa Koundoul) and her football-crazy son (Pape Momar Diop), a big scary self-possessed African dude (Cyril Dorand Domche Nzeugang), jittery and zombie-phobic Fahran (Sheik Dauda), etc. Some situations are familiar (the wounded older man hiding his infection from the others), but this cannily acts if it were the second zombie apocalypse movie ever made rather than the thousand-and-second. The irony button is pressed heavily, as Enrico now wants to keep his infected countrymen out of the compound the way he earlier wanted to keep the refugees out of Italy. The character arc whereby the callow racist gets to know black people and cooperate with them – even playing football with little Ali – doesn’t go where we might expect.
The climax references Romero’s shattering finish but with a new, shocking and surprising twist – featuring an act as appalling as the sniper shooting Duane Jones in the head which is sprung so quickly on the audience it takes moments to sink in. A gruesome punchline might be construed as payback for what men like the Sheriff and Harry Cooper have been doing to black folks on screen and off since long before Image Ten decided to make a horror film. It has some suspense sequences, but takes time to show vignettes of boredom, confusion and distraction inside the building and doesn’t stress the implacable menace of the flesh-eaters. These people have enough problems even without the zombie attacks. Another unusual aspect is a soundtrack selection of appropriate songs.