What We Become
May 13, 2016
Marie Hammer Boda
Joining the ranks of other first person plural pronoun horror titles like We Are What We Are, What We Do in the Shadows and last year’s We Are Still Here, What We Become may not reach the heights of those mentioned triumphs, but it has lots of positives which make it worth your while. But the many negatives will also make your joy in taking in this zombie film – very short-lived.
Meet the Johansson’s of the small town Sorgenfri (the original Danish title): Pernille (Mille Dinesen) and her husband Dino (Troels Lyby), their teenaged boy Gustav (Benjamin Engell) and young daughter Maj (Ella Solgaard). They are enjoying their summer vacation – joining a bevy of neighbors for a lively block party, but… With the arrival of a new family across the street (coincidental?) including young beauty Sonja (Marie Hammer Boda) to pique Gustav’s interest, there is also the beginning of a gnarly flu epidemic – so vile that the town is quarantined, leaving families stranded in their homes. Oh, and the sickness turns the people it kills, into blood-thirsty, walking corpses. Sound familiar? It kind of is. But first…
I’ve been griping quite a bit lately (to anyone who will listen) about The Walking Dead and more keenly, Fear the Walking Dead – and how I can barely contain my anger, disgust and amazement at how the characters in these shows are continually written to make extremely bad judgements and in turn, take very dangerous – and sometimes fateful – actions. All in the name of moving things along and creating “danger”.
And such is the case with the forthcoming zombie horror flick from Denmark; What We Become.
I’m having a hard time stomaching the way that characters constantly put themselves in legitimate peril. This is not the fault of the characters, or the actors – only that of the writers. In What We Become, and Fear the Walking Dead, I will give some allowance that the events taking place in both of these stories are very early on in the undead outbreak. So people would conceivably still be overly-emotional and perhaps deal in faulty judgement, based on their mental state in this terrible crisis.
But what I’ve said time and again, is that there simply have to be better ways to put these characters in jeopardy, without having them fall into the tried-n-true (albeit overused) story point of the characters being just plain stupid.
In What We Become, infected people are allowed into “secure” locations, young people unknowingly (but why were they out in the first place?) unleash the infected hordes onto their neighborhoods (where were the parents when the young lad escaped from their tarp-sealed home?) and little things like, when you know that your safe place has been compromised, why would you stand there with your door open, when you know that the ghouls are inside?
Writers. Find another way. And when the characters’ common sense still results in danger or injury or death – well, then I’ll more easily accept it.
With a siege on their suburban home – straight out of Night of the Living Dead, and a distractor for the mindless walking corpses, borrowed from another Romero effort, Land of the Dead, one has to wonder what the overall purpose was to conceive and eventually shoot this film. Not that it’s bad, but absolutely no new ground has been tread upon or even broken.
Here’s why: It’s well-acted, smoothly-produced and garners some real tension. The very brisk opening sets up the family as well as the forthcoming disaster and quarantine, and it does this all well – but once the group is stuck inside their home, it loses some luster. It’s unclear how long it has been, although the creative use of “Nunis”, Maj’s pet rabbit, certainly lends some idea of the time which has passed and what lengths the group will go to in order to survive.
And since the film is a sparse 80 minutes, it feels as though writer/director Bo Mikkelsen could have taken an extra 10 or 15 minutes to explore the family dynamics (yes, for once I’m asking for a longer film). We don’t dislike these characters per se, but as the film moves into its third act, I found myself indifferent as to their ultimate fates. Some additional, but brief character development would have done wonders – in garnering sympathy and expanding the inner-workings of their family unit as well as the relationship between the family and their neighbors – prior to the epidemic.
However, in the zombie department, the film delivers. The make-up effects are all very well done, and the zombie transformations (we see very little of this until the end, which adds a nice touch of anticipation) are pretty creepy, goo-ey and bloody. And along with those technical achievements, the film does offer some very effective “boo” moments and some legit tension and suspense. But again, had we cared more for the family and their well-being, this uneasiness could have easily gone through the roof, thus making this a better horror-going experience overall.
What We Become will not become a bone-chilling and blood-letting zombie classic, but it has some well-done undead goodness, serviceable performances and just enough tension to keep you on board. Just leave your brain at the door, ‘cause there are far too many head-scratching and eye-rolling character decisions to keep you from completely enjoying all of that juicy zombie goodness.
What We Become was nominated for Best Motion Picture at the 2015 Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival and will enjoy a limited theatrical release on May 13th in New York and Los Angeles. If you’re in one of those areas, take a look. If not, it could be worth a Redbox rental or Netflix stop when the time arrives.