J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, May 13, 2016

What We Become: The Dead Will Walk in Denmark

Zombies are even paler in Denmark, but are they politer? You could make that case, considering how long it takes them to start eating people after the zombie apocalypse breaks out. It is a slow build, like the first season of The Walking Dead, except even more so in Bo Mikklesen’s What We Become (trailer here), which opens tonight in New York at the IFC Center.

Gustav Johansson is tired of his parents’ many rules and general squareness, but he is not ready to pay his own bills. It would also be foolish to move out just when a hot new classmate moves in across the street. Plus, he really dotes on his little sister just as much as his doofus dad and disciplinarian mother. Unfortunately, his first attempts to put the moves on Sonja were a little awkward, but he doesn’t have much competition in the sleepy burg of Sorgenfri. However, some of the neighbors have been acting strangely lately—and we know what that means.

News reports speak of an outbreak in the area, but nobody pays it much mind until the military declares martial law and starts draping the houses in quarantine tarp. Although everyone is resentful, they are still entirely dependent on the military for regular deliveries of food and water. However, the steadily shrinking allotments are inescapably ominous. Yet, perhaps most frustratingly for Gustav, the crackdown came just as he was making headway with Sonja.

There are no glaring shortcomings in WWB, but it all feels very familiar, even in Danish. Even by Walking Dead standards, Mikkelsen is stingy with the zombies. We do not see any undead shufflers until well past the one-hour mark, which is pretty late in the game for an eighty-one-minute film. Regardless, it is clear Mikkelsen is not eager to go there, so he doesn’t. He is much more interested in examining the effects of the quarantine on the Johansson family dynamic. At least WWB shows no contempt for the zombie sub-genre, unlike the inexplicable 2016 Tribeca audience award winner, Here Alone.

Mille Dinesen and Troels Lyby are actually quite impressive as Ma and Pa Johansson. It is pretty poignant to watch the Johansson’s realize the magnitude of the mistakes they make. Marie Hammer Boda gives the film a lift as Sonja. Benjamin Engell’s Gustav just doesn’t have an equivalent presence, but they say girls mature faster than boys at that age.

It is certainly noteworthy to see such real and direct family drama in a genre film. Mikkelsen’s depiction of the not so slow slide into martial law (and worse) also feels disconcertingly credible. However, WWB is still a zombie movie. It just isn’t right for it to hold out on us for so long. Recommended more as a moody outbreak thriller than a zombie movie, What We Become opens midnight tonight (5/13) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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