Portrait of a Zombie
Director: Bing Bailey • 87 min.
11/8, 10 p.m. • City Stage
$10 ind. ticket
The irish can’t catch a break. First, they have to deal with famine and several generations of poverty. Then the IRA go bomb crazy in the latter half of the 20th century. Plus, they have to deal with the fact that they spawned Bono. And, now, they seem to be ground zero for the zombie apocalypse, which might be just slightly worse than birthing Bono.
“Portrait of a Zombie” combines two very popular genres: the zombie film and the fake documentary. It makes for a very grim, often disturbing look into a run-down Irish borough that has become a war zone for the undead. A local family has their worst fears realized when their son Billy is infected and turns into a zombie. Instead of putting a bullet in his brain, they decide to take care of him like a rabid pet. This causes an uproar as their neighbors begin to freak out and a local crime boss becomes particularly agitated.
An American documentary crew is invited to chronicle this strange event, and soon they are embroiled in a potboiler of a situation: zombies to the left of them, criminals to the right. It’s not exactly a story that lends itself to a long life expectancy.
“Portrait of a Zombie” is an interesting genre effort. It’s bleak—damn bleak—which I suppose is exactly the kind of vibe one would want for a story about an unfolding, undead apocalypse. The zombies are pretty freaking frightening, and the drab grey exteriors of a cloud-covered Dublin make for a damp and dreadful backdrop. There’s some well-delivered performances, especially considering the lunacy of the set up.
Director Bing Bailey does an admirable job of creating a realistic nightmare landscape where all this insanity unfolds. As a hybrid film, it almost works.
I was a bigger fan of the story than some of the execution. The zombies are effective, but the documentary stuff feels forced, like an apocalyptic version of “The Office.” Segments devoted to characters addressing the camera came off as disingenuous. It’s an intriguing device, but many of the segments don’t seem to always mesh together. I think it could have lost a huge chunk of exposition and still ended up being an effective and tense film.
I’d recommend it to genre fans, though. In a marketplace oversaturated with zombie product, it carves its own twisted identity. There’s one scene in particular that is about as grotesque as I can remember in a scary movie—definitely not for the faint of heart.
Bonus: The filmmaker will be at the screening to talk about the making of “Portrait.”