Director: Joey De Guzman
Cast: Brandon Vera, Pepe Herrera, Mary Jean Lastimosa, Joey Marquez, Ricci Rivero, Freya Fury Montierro, Yohance Levi Buie, Jema Galanza, Jovit Moya
Duration: 82 mins.
By Paul Bramhall
In the late 2010s people began to think that the Philippine film industry was finally emerging from the insipid torpor it had spent most of 21st century later, and was making a legitimate effort to produce a solid action film to catch up with its Southeast Asian neighbors. Only in the twilight years of the decade did we get Erik Matti Buy Bustby Pedring Lopez MaryRichard Somes’ We will not die tonightand Vincent Soberano delivered a double strike with The Trigonal: fight for justice AND Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids. While none of them proved to be the watershed moment experienced by the likes of Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and even Cambodia, what cannot be argued is that things were heading in the right direction. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and like most countries, any film business was put on hold for a long time.
Thankfully in 2022 the local film industry has started to pick itself up and shake off the dust, with Day Zero coming by combining those ever welcome bedfellows: the action and horror genres. A radio voice-over kicks off proceedings by explaining that a mutated version of dengue fever has emerged, turning its victims into rabid zombies with a propensity for violence. Like any zombie movie that knows its worth, no further explanation is needed (and we definitely don’t have any), with the familiarity that zombie movies have ever since 28 days later they popularized the genre 20 years ago, which means their success depends more on execution of the ‘how’ versus the ‘what’.
Day Zero is director Joey De Guzman’s second feature film after the 2019 horror The ghostand it could very well be that the aforementioned Erik Matti is serving as executive producer that the latter Buy Bust co-star Brandon Vera moves into starring role status here. Half Filipina and half Italian, Vera was originally a mixed martial artist who worked in UFC and ONE Championship promotions, before trying her hand at acting with the role of him in Buy Bust. Notably, he hasn’t worked in film since working with Erik Matti, and while it would be easy to draw parallels with another half-Filipino actor who came from a martial arts background, namely Dave Bautista, judging by his portrayal of him in Day Zero it’s fair to say that it still has a long way to go.
Playing a US Special Forces member imprisoned in Manila for being involved in a scuffle that resulted in the victim being permanently disabled (echoes of Donnie Yen’s angry cop in SPL!), any screen presence of Vera Buy Bust he’s here gone MIA, presenting himself as a somewhat gormless hulk instead. We learn that he wants nothing more than to be reunited with his wife, played by half-Filipina, half-Iranian Miss Universe Philippines 2014 Mary Jean Lastimosa, and their decidedly uninspired by A quiet place deaf-mute daughter, played by newcomer Freya Fury Montierro. Predictably, when things get to the level of the denim-wearing zombie apocalypse and the prison becomes free for all, Vera makes it her mission to traverse the city and find her loved ones. Oh, and she’ll do it with her inmate-from-the-inside effeminate comedy starring Pepe Herrera (Always be my maybe), who was also her sign language teacher (don’t ask).
Lastimosa and Montierro are obviously having a tough time in their 7th ground floor apartment as the entire block is succumbing to the new strain of dengue fever, and considering that zombies react to sound more than sight, Montierro’s use of a doorbell to attract attention naturally doesn’t bode well. The apartment building setting also allows us to meet the usual set of expendable characters: we have a young beloved couple, played by basketball player Ricci Rivero (Angry) and volleyball player Jema Galanza (here in her acting debut), and of course the overprotective father, along with various other characters who don’t get enough screen time to be worth mentioning. Surprisingly Vera makes it across town with minimal trouble, and soon the family is reunited to battle zombies, have saccharine moments of reconnecting (usually involving sign language), and vow never to break up.
Frankly, there isn’t an iota of originality to be found Day Zero, and the fact that its shooting locations are limited to a handful of rooms and corridors sure doesn’t help. By far the biggest problem with him though is the acting. I guess the first question on the audition application form reads something like “Are you a. half Filipino, or b. a famous sports star? Proceed to complete the rest only if you answer yes to both. Each character looks like a cardboard cutout, with Vera in particular representing the most unconvincing member of the US Special Forces to ever appear on screen, certainly not helped by a script that largely limits her dialogue to short bursts of a few words. at a time time. I swear he pronounces “hurry up!” at least 5 times during the punchy 80-minute run. Initially I thought it must be because she isn’t fluent in Tagalog, however upon further research it seems that’s not the case, and it really is because the script is just weak.
The zombies themselves look at least the part, even if they fall into that category of only having their faces made up to look undead, and the rest of any flesh on display looks perfectly normal. While there are some decent CGI flourishes for some kills, there’s a surprising lack of real gore, with any scene involving zombies eating people made up of the person being bitten displaying a pained expression and little else. There’s also the bizarre habit of showing blood splatter in solitary confinement, then a zombie is shot in the head – cut into a wall with blood thrown at it. A zombie has its neck cut, cut into a wall with blood running down it. The lack of connectivity in the editing means that much of the pacing often feels disjointed, which when combined with less than stellar line delivery often gives a slightly out of place feel to proceedings.
My favorite reveal though goes to the fact that it’s been revealed that, if there’s no one around for zombies to chase, they take a nap. I’m not sure if this was an intentional choice that allowed multiple zombies to be on screen at once without all needing to be made up as zombies, since the zombie’s preferred napping style is to squat down and keep his head in his hands. hands so you can’t really see their face but either way it made me laugh. The whole nap concept isn’t even a theory on my part, it’s actually spelled out in the radio broadcast. Self 28 days later popularized the running zombie, might Day Zero be responsible for the disclosure of the slumbering zombie!?
As far as the action goes, there’s little to write home about. My heart sank as Vera found herself surrounded by 5 knife-wielding inmates in the first 10 minutes, who then proceeded to approach him one by one, while the others gently waved their blades senselessly. That kind of background weapon flailing may have worked in the 1970s Shaw Brothers movie, but not in a close-quarters combat scene in 2022. There’s some promise on display in the final reel when Vera goes solo unleashing a gun. of a machine gun, a dagger, and his fists and feet against a small army of zombies. The sequence has an energy that has been lacking up to that point, but certainly not enough to make the rest of it forgivable, and I have a strong feeling that it’s one of those instances where an ordinary scene impresses because the rest was so mundane.
With poor acting, incoherent pacing, and dubious continuity, Day Zero is a tough sell for even the most devoted zombie fan, offering little more than recycled scenes from any number of other zombie films, most of which I’d be willing to bet are far superior. In the closing line before the credits roll, the radio announcer says, “May the lord have mercy on us.” If you decide to give Day Zero one shot, then I wish the same for you.
Paul Bramhall Rating: 3/10