Lost in Apocalypse
A group of seemingly unrelated individuals fight their way out of a virus-infested hotel, only to find themselves at a worse place than before.
Ruibo Cao (based on comic books by)
And you stumble.
There are a few outcomes of such a troublesome turn of events.
Your stumble could be a minor trip, in which you recover yourself quickly and go on your merry way.
You could stumble hard enough that you fall to the ground, but catch yourself with your hands, thus avoiding a major wipe-out.
And then you can stumble so hardcore that you fall head first on to the pavement, potentially humiliating or injuring yourself.
I hate it when a promising film stumbles.
And the screening of the Chinese zombie import, Lost in Apocalypse – falls somewhere between the “avoiding a major wipe-out” and “you fall head first on to the pavement”.
The problem is, in the context of a film – “enjoying an amazing stroll through your neighborhood” is a fantastic experience. All was going so well, and then – that fateful stumble.
Here’s the lowdown:
A group of semi-intertwined people are in attendance to a luncheon meeting at a high-end hotel in Beijing. There are potential love relationships, long-time friendships, colleague relationships and boss/underling relationships. It’s all set up, just in time for a zombie outbreak to occur, trapping the group inside their lavish hotel room. But as in all zombie flicks, these folks can’t stay in this place forever. And so an escape must be attempted.
I can’t gripe about any of the technical achievements in Lost in Apocalypse. The production values are awesome. Zombie make-up and zombie gore – fantastic. Camerawork, lighting, costumes – all of it works.
Performance? Absolutely nothing with which to find complaint. In fact, at the 2018 FilmQuest (where the film held its Utah premiere), the film won Best Ensemble Cast in a Feature. Well deserved.
The problem is this particular film’s stumble. The structure of the story is cool. We start out with our main cast of characters – much later in the story. Although this structure lends itself to immense spoilers of which characters will make it this far – make note of that. They’re on the run from the infected, and happen upon a secured warehouse – to which one of the characters has a connection. It’s apparent safety. And then we’re taken back to character intros and how this viral disaster began.
I loved the structure. Start things off with a bang and go back. It’s a tried and true method of cinematic story-telling and it works wonderfully here. The problem begins (that annoying stumble) when we return to that original scene and continue the story from there.
It was here where the film started to fall into some serious “schmaltz” territory. This was one of my biggie problems for the amazing Train to Busan a couple of years back. Intense zombie action – and then the over-the-top emotional aspect (one particular sequence at the film’s conclusion).
While Train to Busan had only one terribly manipulative moment – Lost in Apocalypse spends the entire third act trying to make us “feel” (introducing a young character, in an attempt to garner audience sympathies). It didn’t work, and that is at the core of the aforementioned “stumble”. Even the score over does it with too much emotional piano.
And what bothers me about this particular film “stumble” is that I was totally on board from the beginning. I love powder-keg, enclosed situations with a mismatched group of personalities – dealing with a life or death crisis. The hotel locale and the intro to the various characters was perfect. I understand the purpose of getting the characters out of the building (the arcs and necessary character deaths), but had it remained contained – I think it would have been a better film experience.
As much as Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is beloved (yes, by me too), I’ve always had a problem with the film’s third act. The same issue applies here. In 28 Days Later, we’ve got a small, core group of people and there is no problem with immediate sympathy and interest. Then we get to the military installation, and more characters and the always necessary post-apocalypse, “humans are the real monsters” shtick. Exact same play in Lost in Apocalypse.
We’ve seen the same thing over and over in the now pointless series, The Walking Dead. I’ll admit, it’s a fine line to walk when you’re making a zombie movie/story. Too much zombie craziness, and the story suffers. Too much “humans are the monsters” symbolism – and you can’t satisfy the zombie gore-hound in me.
Lost in Apocalypse didn’t stay the course – offering what I wanted for the first half and losing my attentions for the second.
That’s not to say the film was completely devoid of a good pull on my jaded heart strings. The relationship re-established at the film’s outset, between old high school chums Jack (Martin Yang) and Michael (Ray Wang) is beautifully revealed, with a heartfelt reunion, terrific flashbacks and an emotional wrap-up. But the addition of the little girl Cindy in jeopardy – I couldn’t buy into both the actions of the other characters to risk themselves to save her – or the addition of this “she’ll bring automatic sympathy” character into the story’s mix. It felt too obvious. Frankly, Cindy’s introduction into the film – was the beginning of the aforementioned stumble.
The film was nominated for several awards at this year’s FilmQuest, including Best Feature, Best Director – Sky Yang (secret nominee), Best Supporting Actor in a Feature – Martin Yang, Best Supporting Actress in a Feature – E’Naan Zhang, Best Ensemble Cast in a Feature (WIN) and Best Score for a Feature.
While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the film – for the reasons outlined above – I can still say that it’s got great performances, solid production values and some good old-fashioned zombie movie goodness.
A solid 3.5-star rating it is.
Lost in Apocalypse is still ripping (flesh?) across the festival landscape – with a showing forthcoming at Los Angeles’ Screamfest in October.
As a zombie movie, it’s a darn good time. But when it turns into so much melodrama – what’s the phrase I’m looking for?
Oh yes, it stumbles.