Scorched Earth

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“Future imperfect.”

This workmanlike effort, if not particularly memorable, does at least cross two genres not frequently combined: the Western and the post-apocalypse movie. For it takes place in a world where global warming and other stuff have created a poisoned wasteland. Consequently, the currencies of choice are water purification tablets and silver, the latter being the raw ingredient in the air filtration masks which have become essential. Using vehicles powered by fossil fuels is totally outlawed, and those who do have rewards placed on their heads, attracting the attention of bounty hunters.

One such is Atticus Gage (Carano), who hears from former partner, Doc (Hannah) of an outlaw town, Defiance. This is run by Thomas Jackson (Robbins), whose bounty exceeds them all. Inevitably, Gage heads to the town to take Jackson out, adopting the identity of one of her previous targets, and insinuating herself into his posse. And equally inevitably, he turns out to have a connection to a dark incident in Gage’s past, when not plotting to re-open a nearby silver mine, the ore being dug out by pilgrims kidnapped off a nearby trail.

Carano has struggled to repeat the success of her (effective) feature debut, Haywire, with cinematic supporting parts in the likes of Deadpool and Fast and Furious 6 alternating with straight-to-video starring roles, such as In the Blood. These have been best when she has been allowed to concentrate on the physical aspects which are her strength, and the same goes here, right from the first moment we see her, riding into shot and dragging a coffin behind her, in a nice nod to the original Django. However, if she’s ever going to go further, she needs to show significantly more development as an actress. Haywire was now seven years ago – not that you’d know it from her performance here, especially when put alongside someone like Hannah.

I did like the overall setting, despite odd gaps in logic: sometimes people need to wear masks, at other times they don’t. It’s a universe which I’d have been interested to see explored some more, perhaps in an extended format, such as a TV series. This could have answered questions such as, where are those pilgrims going, anyway? I also appreciated how Gage has the ability to be a complete bad-ass, on more than one occasion showing absolutely no qualms about shiving or shooting those who might be about to blow the gaff on her assumed identity.

The tone is likely best summed up by a sequence in which Gage finds herself sealed into her own coffin and tossed off the side of a cliff. Naturally, she survives, staggering back to Doc, who patches her up, allowing the pair of them to return to Defiance, for a final grandstand(ish) shoot-out. It’s all thoroughly implausible, yet somehow, is in keeping with the pulp/comic-book aesthetic for which the makers seem to be aiming. I can’t say it’s entirely, or even largely, successful there. Yet it’s just enough to leave me back on the hook for whatever Carano does next, hoping for better.

Dir: Peter Howitt
Star: Gina Carano, Ryan Robbins, John Hannah, Stephanie Bennett

The Bad Batch

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“After the apocalypse, there will still be photocopiers. And raves.”

In the film’s defense, it’s not clear quite how post-apocalyptic this is meant to be, since we don’t see anything of the world at large. Everything takes place inside a stretch of desert which has been used, apparently for some time, as a dumping ground for the dregs of society. Into this environment is dropped Arlen (Waterhouse), who soon gets first-hand experience of the situation, when a cannibal mother and daughter capture her, and cut off an arm and a leg. She escapes, and is found and rescued by the Hermit (Carrey), who brings her to Comfort, the nearest the zone offers to civilization. When she’s well again, Arlen returns to take revenge on the mother, but believing the daughter to be innocent, takes her back to Comfort. Which provokes the ire of Miami Man (Monoa), a tattooed behemoth who turns out to be the girl’s father, and wants her back.

There’s also Keanu Reeves, running around as “the Dream,” a rave promoter, drug pusher and overall lord of Comfort, who has a harem of pregnant, gun-toting women, all sporting “The Dream is inside me” T-shirts: probably the film’s most memorable image, despite its undoubted ludicrousness. But it all fails to gel into anything coherent or interesting, except in very sporadic moments. It’s a long slog through the first 30 minutes, which are almost entirely dialogue-free, to get to what passes for the meat of the story – though it’s more like undercooked tofu, to be honest.

For the movie never achieves anything like a consistent direction or even tone. Even its Wikipedia page calls the film a “romantic drama horror-thriller”. Good luck juggling all those genres. Is it aspiring to be Mad Max? A spaghetti Western? My best guess could well be, merely a six million dollar budgeted excuse for the director’s favourite Spotify playlist, the soundtrack roaming with jarring inconsistency from Culture Club to Die Antwoord, while we endure lengthy shots of Arlen wandering the desert, high on the Dream’s product. And don’t even get me started on the Hawaiian Momoa playing a supposed Cuban, with a cod-Mexican accent. I’m just glad Chris (whose family is genuinely Cuban) wasn’t around, or all Momoa’s scenes would have been overdubbed with a stream of her derisive snorts, emanating from next to me on the couch.

I did appreciate the look of the film, with some striking imagery: the towering wall of shipping containers, parked in the middle of the desert, for example. That just isn’t enough to sustain a 115-minute running-time, especially when the film seems to get bored of its own ideas, and forget about them. Miami Man, for example, despite proclaiming that his daughter is the only thing he cares about, apparently abandons this search and drifts away from the picture, apparently preferring to do something else for much of the second half. This viewer’s interest was right there beside him.

Dir: Ana Lily Amirpour
Star: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey

Viral

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“Facebook status: feeling infected.”

Firstly: it’s not a frickin’ virus at all! The threat here is a blood-borne parasite, which is completely different, so I have no idea where the title came from. Glad I got that off my chest. Where were we? Oh, yes… The Drakeford family have just moved in to a suburban community in California. Daughter Emma (Black-D’Elia) is trying to settle in at their new school. something at which her more extrovert older sister Stacey (Tipton) is better. This distraction is why they don’t notice the growing concern about a disease that’s spreading across the globe – until a classmate succumbs to this nasty ailment, which makes the infected highly aggressive.

From there, the siblings’ safe, stable world disintegrates rapidly. Mom is stuck at the airport, and when Dad goes to try and find her, he doesn’t come back. Matters escalate after Stacey drags the reluctant Emma to a particularly ill-advised house party [Maybe it’s just me, but in the event of any communicable epidemic breaking out, I would not exactly be attending social gatherings], where they get to see the effects of the illness first hand. Scurrying back to the sanctuary of their home, and hot local kid Evan (Tope), the sisters are thrust back on their own resources, as martial law is declared and the area comes under strict quarantine. This means fending off not only the infected; the military, too, pose a threat to what remains of the family.

Despite its title, the film makes a credible effort to ground its epidemic at least somewhat in real science. Specifically, it references the toxoplasma gondii parasite, which does affect the behaviour of its rat hosts. Of course, this is taken to extremes here, and you end up with something closer to what was seen in 28 Days Later: fast, neo-zombies, driven by hunger. Disappointingly, this is spun into a teen-centric story, which feels as if it might not be out of place on MTV. And, like most MTV shows, anyone older than the target audience will have to suppress a frequent urge to yell at characters for their poor life skills, e.g. the frequent removal of their face-masks (see Evan, above). Stacey fares especially poorly here, to the extent I suspect her brain being controlled by a parasitic worm might increase her IQ significantly.

The effects work is light, yet solid enough, and there is a shudder or two to be had, not least from the creepy parasites. If you can watch Emma hone her amateur surgeon skills – remembering a lesson given by her teacher father – without flinching, you’re tougher than I. Yet such moments are the exception, rather than the rule they need to be, and the lack of any real escalation is surpassed only by the underwhelming ending. Despite the unexpected death of one major character, as apocalypses go, this one feels more a moderate nuisance than life-threatening peril. “OMG, I can’t update my Instagram. This totally sux.” The movie certainly won’t be getting a “like” from me.

Dir: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Star: Sofia Black-D’Elia, Analeigh Tipton, Travis Tope, Colson Baker

Black Mirror: Metalhead

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“Run Bella Run”

Black Mirror has consistently been the standard for thought-provoking, usually (although not always) dystopian science-fiction since it first aired in 2011. The latest season, the fourth, premiered on Netflix just before Christmas, and the fifth episode falls squarely into our wheelhouse. Filmed entirely in black-and-white, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic landscape following some unspecified catastrophe. A group of three people prepare to raid a warehouse in search of supplies – and, in particular, one item. However, their search alerts a security robot, which looks somewhat like a greyhound made of black metal, and makes quick work of two intruders, leaving only Bella (Peake) left to pursue. The robot’s combination of stamina, speed and absolute lethality will require all her human ingenuity, if she’s to escape.

The influences here are numerous. You could start from Terminator crossed with Night of the Living Dead, though there was a 1953 SF story by Arthur Porges called ‘The Ruum’ which was also built around someone pursued through a rural landscape by an unstoppable robotic pursuer. As such, this is always going to be a limited scenario, especially when there’s only person on the other side. It was probably wise for the makers to keep this at a crisp 41 minutes; the other entries in the season run as long as 76 minutes. However, I still had a feeling they left food on the table, storywise: this was especially true at the ending, where the strength of character Bella had shown to that point, apparently deserts her entirely. It seemed to me she still should have had fuel left in her tank, and this made for a disappointing conclusion.

Until then, however, it was a very well-constructed thrill-ride, with Bella using her smarts to deal with everything her dogged (hohoho!) adversary can throw at her. The balance ebbs and flows between the two, as human and robot tussle across the battlefield, both using what they can find along the way to help themselves. [Sideline: why is it, whenever anyone picks up a knife in a kitchen to use as a weapon, it is always the Psycho knife?] Especially in the latter stages, when the setting moves from the countryside to inside a house, it almost seems to nudge over into slasher film territory, with Bella as the “final girl” – albeit one rather more mature than the usual, teen-aged inhabitants of that trope.

Like the best dystopias, there’s more than an element of plausibility here, with the robot’s shape and movements inspired by the (somewhat creepy) products already being put out by Boston Dynamics. It’s also more straightforward than many Black Mirror episodes: creator Charlie Booker specializes in the final “gotcha”, a twist that radically re-defines what has gone before. Here, this is limited to a last shot in which the viewer discovers the purpose of the raid on the warehouse, and it’s more poignant than upending. It may not be one of the most memorable Mirror stories, which stick in the mind long after it has finished. Yet it’s an efficient and lean effort, capable of standing alongside any other episode.

Dir: David Slade
Star: Maxine Peake

Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter

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Barb Wire… In space!”

Actually, if only this had been that, it would likely have been a great deal more entertaining. The most obvious point of comparison is lead Birdsall: as the poster on the right shows, she bears more than a passing resemblance to Pamela Anderson. The setting is also dystopian SF, though even more so than in Barb Wire. This takes place after a decade-long apocalypse, which pitted mankind against the artificial intelligences we had created, they having decided we were more a problem than a solution [coughSkynetcough] What remains of the human race, is now struggling to survive in the blasted landscape which remains.

Among them is Sienna (Birdsall), who hears of a planet which contains weapons that can fry the AI circuits, before they can carry out their nefarious plan to download all of humanity’s consciousness into the Matrix. She puts together a plucky team of stock cliches – the geek (McGrath), the muscle-bound fighter (Crawford, clearly the low-rent Vin Diesel. Seriously, he used to be on the British version of Gladiators, and his character was literally called “Diesel”), the robot with a line of snappy repartee – and flies off in a spaceship to find the bombs which are humanity’s last chance. On the way, they meet up with another robot – this one a pleasure model (Park) – and learn some rather disturbing revelations about Sienna’s own past [coughTyrellCorporationcough].

These revelations do, admittedly, explain her stylistic choices – and, cynics might suggest, her approach to acting. In between a fair amount of futuristic chit-chat of varying interest value, there’s a lot of running around deserts, pretending to fire laser weapons at robotic enemies that, very obviously, aren’t there at all. The physical look of the film isn’t actually too bad; the cinematography has a fairly epic scope to it. The main problem from a visual standpoint, is the CGI has been meshed very badly with the real footage: you never escape the knowledge that the former has been pasted on top of the latter. If your script is going to span the galaxy and feature multiple human vs. robot confrontations, you need to be able to deliver. It has been twenty years since Starship Troopers came out, and its CGI still kicks this film’s ass from here to Klendathu.

While not entirely devoid of pleasures, the ones to be found here are mostly minor. Birdsall does actually have some screen presence, and certainly looks the part, in a Barbarella-esque kind of way. There’s a nice scene at the beginning, where she’s trying to escape in a car which has an auto-pilot, and it refuses to leave until it has gone through its entire checklist of new driver items. That kind of self-effacing humour is something the film needed in greater quantities, and would have helped defray the woeful inadequacy of the technical elements, for wit is cheap. Though on the evidence of this, not as cheap as the visual effects software used here. If that isn’t good enough to let the audience take your film seriously, you probably shouldn’t either.

Dir: Neil Johnson
Star: Tracey Birdsall, Tim McGrath, Daz Crawford, Ashley Park

Here Alone

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“Forest of the Dead”

A viral plague has decimated mankind, turning its victims in mindless, flesh-craving ghouls. One of the few to have survived is Ann (Walters), who has taken up residence in the woods, where she has camped out. Ann uses the survival skills she received from her now-absent husband, Jason (West), only occasionally having to emerge and risk the threat of the infected, in order to gather supplies. Her secluded, yet relatively safe existence is disturbed, when she finds an injured man, Chris (Thompson) and his teenage daughter, Liv (Piersanti) on a road. They are supposed to be on their way north, to where the epidemic is reported to be in check. Yet Chris, in particular, seems curiously unwilling to be on his way.

If there’s nothing particularly new or inventive about this version of the zombie apocalypse, it’s not without its small-scale merits. Ann is far from some kind of survivalist Mary Sue: she’s barely getting by, perhaps having paid less attention to her wilderness lessons than she should have. Probably wisely, for a small budget film, the infected – the term “zombies” is never used – are kept largely out of sight, heard more than they are seen. While their shrieks are unnerving enough, the tension comes more from internal forces: the opaque nature of Chris’s motives, for example, or Ann’s dwindling supply of bullets. The former are particularly troubling: the dynamic between Chris and Liv just seems “off” in a variety of ways, and I was not surprised when this played a part in the film’s climax. However, things do not unfold in the way I expected, so credit for that.

The film does cheat a bit with regard to previous events. At the beginning of the film, Ann is already alone, and information about what happened to Jason and their child, is only doled out in teaspoon-sized flashbacks over the course of subsequent events. It matters, because these flashbacks reveal quite a lot about her character, and the way she interacts with other people: information we otherwise don’t have. By not getting it until later, we end up retro-fitting it into what we’ve already seen, and I’m not certain the additional complexity of structure imposed, serves any real purpose.

In the earlier stages, it reminded me of The Wall, with its tale of a woman thrown back entirely onto her own resources. While that solo adventure would have been difficult to sustain, it is the most interesting and original part of proceedings. I was rather disappointed when Chris + Liv showed up, because the entire dynamic changes at that point, and the film becomes something with which I’m somewhat too familiar. While there are twists down the stretch, this rejects the chance to truly separate itself from the large pack of zombie apocalypse movies in terms of plot. Fortunately, a solid performance from Walters helps the film sustain viewer interest through the weaker second half.

Dir: Rod Blackhurst
Star: Lucy Walters, Adam David Thompson, Gina Piersanti, Shane West

The Tribe

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“Who knew the post-apocalypse could be dull?”

Disease has wiped out most of civilization, and left those who have survived, scrambling to cope. Better equipped than most are sisters Jenny (Rothe), Sarah (Winters) and silent little Danika (Jones). For their father was a doomsday prepper, who created a “bug out” cabin in the desert, stocked with all the necessities to survive. However, neither he nor their mother are around any longer: the former died during the crisis, and the latter went out to seek help and never returned. So it’s all down to the sisters, who have been reminded about the golden rule, time and again, by their Dad: do not let anyone in, under any circumstances.

This rule is tested beyond its breaking point when Ryan (Nardelli) shows up. He seems to have a bond with Danika; the other two siblings are unable to agree on how to proceed. In the end, older sister Jenny over-rules the far more suspicious Sarah, and Ryan joins their little community. But as Jenny and Ryan start to form a relationship, seeds are being sown to destroy the peaceful and remote life the family have been fortunate enough to enjoy. And that’s not necessarily just the result of Ryan’s hidden agenda, either. Because the psychological pressures of living on the edge of survival will eventually take their toll on even the hardiest of personalities.

Although the bloody conclusion which results is somewhat satisfying, you have to sit through an enormous amount of “jaw-jaw” before you can get to the “war-war”. For the first hour-plus, the biggest threat in this apocalypse appears to be dying of boredom. This is likely a side-effect of the limited budget, perhaps in conjunction with the makers’ apparent interest in making this a relationship drama, rather than the action-packed survival story promised by the sleeve and trailer. The pacing is particularly awful: the question of whether Ryan is the innocent he seems, seems to be answered far too early. Once that happens, you’re left with very little in the way of development, the film doing the cinematic equivalent of endlessly circling the mall, looking for a really good parking spot.

I was reminded, significantly, of The Last Survivors, which takes a similar setting and teenage lead character, but does significantly better in the pacing department – although is still short of perfect. The main difference is that the payoff there is worth the wait, and it doesn’t try to make up for a leaden first half with a sudden late flurry of action. The flaws in that department here are a shame, since the performances here are not the problem, particularly Jones as the youngest, entirely mute sister. She has extraordinarily expressive eyes, and gets to use them to excellent effect in a number of scenes. She is probably the best mute post-apocalyptic child – a particularly niche character genre, I appreciate – since the Feral Kid in Mad Max 2.

Dir: Roxy Shih
Star: Jessica Rothe, Anne Winters, Chloe Beth Jones, Michael Nardelli

The Last Girl, by Joe Hart

Literary rating: starstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2action2

There are elements here which reminded me of Children of Men, though this is set further down the road, when civilization has decayed a good deal further. The issue here is slightly different: specifically, a lack of female children, which has triggered a rapid collapse into anarchy for the United States. 25 years later, the National Obstetric Alliance (NOA) seek far and wide for young girls, who are brought to their compound in the Pacific Northwest, to be held until the age of 21 when… Well, their fate gets a bit murky. Approaching that point is Zoey, who has known almost no other life. But after she’s subjected to a harrowing bout of psychological torture in a sensory-deprivation chamber called “the box”, her whole attitude changes, and she’s prepared to go to any lengths to escape, and take the other women with her.

It’s clear the exact moment and paragraph at which Zoey changes: “A searing desire for vengeance sweeps through her, turning her blood molten hot within her veins and with it the will to exact revenge on those responsible, to destroy what should be obliterated. To reap justice.” Before that, she has been somewhat cowed. A little rebellious, but in small ways, such as reading forbidden literature (The Count of Monte Cristo, perhaps a little too obvious a choice!). Afterward? She becomes a single-minded zealot, intent on the destruction of NOA and those who run it – and all the more interesting for it. But that’s a mission which will open up not only NOA’s darkest secrets, it will also expose how far Zoey is prepared to go in her mission.

As well as Children, there are definitely echoes of A Handmaid’s Tale, with one gender largely reduced to breeding chattel in a theocratic dictatorship [the concept of women as property, is hinted at briefly here with the “Fae Trade”, and appears to be explored further in later volumes]. I’m always down for a good dystopia, and despite the pieces being somewhat familiar, Hart has put them together in an interesting and effective manner, particularly in the second half when Zoey discovers the outside world, and realizes not everyone is like the NOA. My qualms are mostly with the plotting of the first half: if these young women really were the last hope of mankind, wouldn’t they be treated rather better? As in, propped up on couches and fed grapes, rather than kept in conditions resembling a Japanese women-in-prison film.

Still, I can understand why Hart opted for another approach. It would have made for a more ambivalent story-line, rather than NOA and its operatives being the obvious villains of the piece they need to be, and might have robbed Zoey of her moral drive to action. The interesting question – albeit one left unaddressed here – would be whether her lying and putting others in danger, never mind the actual killing, are justified; does the noble end justify her means? Though you could perhaps argue, jeopardizing the future of humanity for your own freedom, is selfish in the extreme. Zoey’s transition certainly makes for one of the more dramatic arcs I’ve read, although her easy adeptness with weapons is somewhat implausible.

Despite these weaknesses, which may seem quite significant, it must be said they didn’t stop me from enjoying the tale as it was told, and there’s still a decent amount to commend this. It’s a nicely self-contained story, yet leaves the door open enough to leave me genuinely interested in reading more. The romantic angles are kept secondary, and there’s a plausibility about the way in which society has fallen apart, that makes this border on disturbing. When the world ends, it may not be with a bang, so much as the sound of us tearing each other apart.

Author: Joe Hart
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer, available through Amazon in both printed and e-book versions.

Survivor (2014)

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“The post-apocalyptic horse whisperer.”

Arrowstorm Entertainment appear to have quietly become a minor creator of action heroine flicks. We’ve previously written about several entries in their Mythica series, and also Cyborg X, but seem to have missed this one. As in Mythica, the “name” star here is Hercules himself, Sorbo, who plays Captain Hunter. He’s in charge of one of seven interstellar ships, dispatched from Earth after the conditions for life here became increasingly precarious. Having spent four decades in space, they pick up a message, but when attempting to reach its source, go through a wormhole and their shuttle craft disintegrates. Hunter and his crew are scattered across the surface; with the captain having a broken leg, it’s up to his most highly-trained recruit, Kate Mitra (Chuchran) to rescue him.

Which would be fine, if that’s what it was. The first half of the film, in particular the section which has Mitra battling her way across the unforgiving landscape, and against the creatures (both humanoid and… not so much) who inhabit the planet, is actually pretty good. Chuchran looks thoroughly convincing, possessing actual muscle tone; the production makes good use of the Utah landscapes; and the lack of dialogue here may well work to the movie’s benefit. It’s undeniably a distraction how evolution on this alien solar system managed to produce something looking exactly like a horse. This is explained… but I have to say, the reason is something I had strongly suspected before it was delivered, and had been hoping I was wide of the mark.

Sadly, I wasn’t, and the film’s second half is considerably weaker. This stops focusing on its main strength – the heroine – and doesn’t live up to the poster tag-lines which use both the worlds “only survivor” and “alone”. She turns out to be neither, and the plot disintegrates into some kind of squabble between the tribes of local inhabitants, along with a couple of (somewhat convincing) monsters. Combine this with the explanation mentioned above, and my interest evaporated – in the same way the oceans back on Earth apparently had, according to Kate’s opening voice-over. Rather than going in an original direction, as had been the case earlier on, the influences become painfully obvious, and this film does not benefit in any such comparison.

From the technical point of view, this isn’t too bad, especially considering the budget was so low, a significant fraction came through Kickstarter. It mixes CGI and practical effects to generally decent effect; the odd shot looks ropey, and some of the “mutants” are a little Halloween-esque, but I’m gradually learning that comes with the Arrowstorm territory. There is just a strong sense of unfulfilled potential; in Chuchran, they had someone who could have been capable of carrying the entire film on her own. To see her character largely shuffled off to the side during the latter stages was a bit of a disappointment, and I hope future projects will offer her the opportunity she appears to deserve, based on a solid showing here.

Dir: John Lyde
Star: Danielle Chuchran, Kevin Sorbo, Rocky Myers, Ruby Jones

The Harvesting, by Melanie Karsak

Literary rating: starstarstarhalf
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2action2action2
“Twilight of the Living Dead…”

This is likely the kind of book you enjoy rather than appreciate. While no-one will ever mistake this for great literature – you could go with “ludicrous nonsense,” and I’d not argue much – it’s a fun enough bit of pulp fiction that I kept turning the pages. Layla Petrovich gets a strange call from her Russian grandmother in her hometown, the remote rural community of Hamletville, requesting her presence. When Layla arrives, she finds Grandma, a noted local seer, clearly preparing for something. What isn’t clear, until Layla wakes up to find herself in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Fortunately, Layla is a bit of a weapons expert – she had moved to Washington D.C. and was working in a museum, specializing in medieval weapons, while giving fencing lessons on the side. What are the odds? So she is soon leading the townsfolk in defense of their realm, while they wait for help to arrive. In the meantime, she has to fend off the unwanted advances of ex-boyfriend Ian and the not-so-unwanted advances of his brother Jamie, deal with her own apparently blossoming psychic talents, and figure out, when the aid eventually shows up, whether it’s quite the kind they want to accept. Hey, who ever said life after the zombie apocalypse would be easy?

There are two aspects that I found memorable here. The first is the psychic angle, which is largely at odds with the straightforward, two-fisted zombie slaying otherwise present. It doesn’t serve much purpose here, to be honest: there is only one supernatural revelation that matters, and you wonder why Granny didn’t simply tell Layla, “You need to get ready for this, that and the other, dear.” However, it adds some off-kilter atmosphere that’s welcome – and perhaps explains why her hit-rate with firearms is close to 100%, despite never having picked one up before going to Grandma’s house. She has the second telescopic-sight, hohoho.

The other thing is the way the story takes an abrupt right-turn at about the two-thirds point, with the zombies being entirely abandoned as a threat, and replaced by… Well, let’s just say, I didn’t see that coming. It’s not the smoothest of transitions, and feels like two separate novels ended up mashed into one file, thanks to an error in the Kindle factory. Yet it perhaps makes some logical sense given the circumstances. On the other hand, the new enemy have a convenient weakness, rendering them astonishingly vulnerable – except their leader, for reasons never made clear, but presumably to avoid the final battle with Layla being over in 0.7 seconds.

Outside the heroine, the rest of the characterization is limited, to put it mildly. While Ian and Jamie gets the most sentences, they’re never much more than cyphers, who exist purely as the other two sides of the love-triangle. Hardly anyone else stands out – save perhaps Buddie, the bow-wielding woodsman who appears to have wandered in on a guest appearance from The Walking Dead. Karsak saves the enthusiasm for the decapitations and brain-splatter, as you’d expect from the very first line: “If you ever need to slice someone’s head off, this is the blade you want.” Providing you’re fine with that, you’ll be fine with this as well.

Author: Melanie Karsak
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing, available through Amazon, both as an ebook and a paperback.