Is Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune as adept at directing movies as he is creating video game icons? Find out, as we take apart the first three episodes of the live-action Dead Rising zombie flick, Zombrex Dead Rising Sun.
Zombrex Dead Rising Sun is the companion movie to Capcom's Dead Rising video game franchise. Directed by series producer Keiji Inafune, the movie is being released as a series of eight episodes, with the first three now available for download via Xbox Live.
Rather than focus on characters from the Dead Rising games, Zombrex Dead Rising Sun is a side story in the game universe, depicting the plight of a young handicapped Japanese boy named George and his older brother Shin as they seek shelter from the zombie hordes.
There are spoilers ahead. If you'd rather see the episodes first, bookmark this and come back after watching.
The first episode begins with a brief introduction from Inafune himself, warning viewers about the horror and violence in the movie. He isn't kidding. Once his intro is over, the movie kicks off with a teenager being brutally beaten by a gang of thugs in an abandoned warehouse. He staggers from assailant to assailant, dazed and bloody, as his wheelchair-bound brother pleads with them to stop.
The brutality of the scene has an even greater impact on the viewer thanks to Inafune's use of a first-person camera for the wheelchair-bound George. In the short documentary that comes with episode three of the series, Inafune explains that integrating the first-person viewpoint is his way of standing out from the crowd, making this more than just another zombie movie.
The mechanic certainly works. When the older brother eludes his assailants and unties the younger, I expected the camera to take off running. Instead it turns and begins to roll, maintaining the viewpoint that at first suggested the object of our perspective was simply tied to a chair.
The pair breaks out of the warehouse and run through a crowd of slow-moving zombies, the thugs in hot pursuit. Then the flashbacks begin.
Infune ditches the first-person view for the flashback scenes, showing our wheelchair-bound hero playing, what else, Dead Rising 2 as Shin rushes in to inform him that the dead are indeed rising and they've got to get to a safe house.
It was around this point in the movie that the horrible English voiceovers really started getting to me. The cheesy American voices sound ridiculously out of place in Zombrex Dead Rising Sun. This is why I watch subtitled anime. It's even worse when live actors are involved.
The flashbacks are intertwined with the first-person present, following the brothers as they get turned away from several official safe houses and are forced to seek shelter in what seems like an abandoned warehouse. As they soon discover, it's become the haven for a violent gang of thugs. Representing the worst society has to offer, the leader of the thugs is particularly foul, threatening his underlings with his pistol and telling his girlfriend that she's only there to give him head.
It's a very adult movie.
Back in first-person land, the thugs catch up with the brothers, Shin telling George to run and hide. Again the tension rises as our perspective rolls slowly away from the scene, looking back to see thugs rushing towards him, only to have his brother appear and delay them, shouting desperate pleas for him to escape. Our point-of-view finds refuge, closing himself up inside four walls of boxes, as a gunshot rings out.
And then things get a bit over-the-top. In George Romero's zombie films, which Inafune is a fan of, the never-stated but perfectly clear message is that at the end of the world, when all seems lost, humans reveal themselves as the worst monsters of them all.
As George cowers behind boxes, peering out to watch the thugs searching for him, his inner monologue comes right out and says it. They're bigger monsters than the zombies! I thought we were supposed to help each other!
That's not how zombie movies work, son.
Speaking of zombies, we see them shambling about outside in a few shots, and one makes its way inside to be quickly dispatched with a bullet to the head, but other than that, the zombies don't weigh heavily in these first three episodes. So far they are more an environmental hazard than anything else. They're heavy snowstorm or sinking ship that brings out the best and worst in humanity.
The thugs eventually give up their search, or so it seems, and our hero goes to check on his brother. He finds him lying on his side in a pool of blood, dead. He barely has time to mourn before our perspective is yanked backwards, the gang springing a trap. The camera fades to black as our protagonist suffers a series of jarring first-person punches.
So far Zombrex Dead Rising Sun is an interesting if formulaic take on the zombie movie. The first-person viewpoint and restricted movement of the camera adds a great deal of tension to the story, but the bad voiceovers and obvious plot twists lessen the impact of the mechanic considerably.
What happens next? I'm guessing the older brother is going to turn into a zombie, protecting his sibling even in undeath. The gang leader's put-upon girlfriend might turn on him and help out as well. Maybe Inafune will surprise me, but as a fan of the same movies that inspired him, I'm pretty sure I see where this is going.
We'll find out next week, when episodes 4 and 5 of Zombrex Dead Rising Sun hit Xbox Live.