Directed by Alex Drummond
I’ve never gone to a baby shower before, but I bet they’re crap. Tales from those I know that have been conjure images of tacky decorations, forced smiles and tedious kid-focussed banter between mouthfuls of hummus. To make matters worse, nobody even drinks! Still, at least there’s not usually a virus there that turns people into killers, right? To make the worst of a bad situation writer/ director Alex Drummond adds this extra ingredient to a half-baked satire on Hollywood life, resulting in a so-so zombie film.
The mother to be is failed actress Mary (Rachael Drummond) who, with her failed writer husband Nick (Ela), tries to grin through a baby/ networking party thrown by her agent Joanne. From lazy caption-based introductions, largely based around the same jokes, we learn almost everybody on their sizeable guest list is in a similar position. This backdrop of failed entertainment dreams gives a sense of sadness to the first act, whilst everyone tucks into some food, drink some beers, and talk about their middling careers. They’re a generally dull bunch of thirty-somethings, though thankfully the joke is very much at their expense, with the infection first seeming like a metaphor for their own vapid lives. If intended, this possible subtext is soon dropped, with a subversion of the sub-genre akin to The Crazies seeing victims become demented killers instead of limp corpses. Tensions brew as a few of them, including a clown (Rago) and a creepy little girl (McKenna), prowl outdoors whilst stomachs get emptier indoors.
The joint servings of horror and comedy don’t combine especially well. True, there’s some witty dialogue, mostly towards the start, where Drummond shows an ear for the uncomfortable. The cast are also fairly reliable and there are some scenes of sweetness and warmth scattered throughout the midsection. There’s genuine pathos as the various men struggle with what it means to be men. However, save for a strange moment where one of the killers visibly laughs amidst the gore, the horror is played far too straight meaning there’s never a consistent tone set. This isn’t to suggest it’s ever actually scary though, since the threat is so vague – with the infected not being well distinguished from the survivors. Moreover, the threat seldom feels as threatening as it does inconvenient. Yes, I appreciate that a movie’s scale is subject to the all-important budget. And without a big one an army of the infected can hardly be recruited. Yet in the absence of a zombie horde it makes little sense to have one of survivors. There’s simply too many of them for the miniscule amount of the infected we see to supply much menace. Consequently, when a roomful of adults, surrounded by potential weapons, watch in terror as one of their own gets savaged by a single clown you’ll feel more frustration than fear.
Issues with scale are also present in the film’s main set-piece: where the guys go for provisions. That their journey only takes them across the road, in broad daylight, is bad enough. But the lack of any genuine adversary on the way makes it even worse. Only in closing minutes do the stakes seem high, when the tension finally gets escalated, though the needlessly abrupt ending soon reduces its impact. This wouldn’t be hard to fix either – by cutting a few of the all too generic characters out, or having more eliminated earlier. Either option could have made for a far tighter, and much more claustrophobic experience: something a bunch of people trapped in a house really should be. Furthermore, at less than 80 minutes long LA Contagion simply feels a little lightweight at best, and at worst unfinished. Still, maybe as per the real thing it’s maybe good to leave this baby party early.
LA Contagion is available now on VOD services