Date and Switch
Down and Dangerous
Mike (Don McManus), the owner of a porn website, has a porn series entitled "Lucky Bastard" where he invites a fan of the website to have sex with a porn star on camera. After doing a background check on a number of fans, he selects Dave (Jay Paulson). To have his porn star, Ashley (Betsy Rue), agree to join "Lucky Bastard" takes more convincing---or, more specifically, more money. He sets up many cameras in and around a mansion which will serve as a porn set, and brings his film crew, Kris (Chris Wylde) and Nico (Lee Kholafai) along. Before the actual porn shoot, Mike buys Dave lunch and gets him acquainted with Ashley during which Dave behaves like an obsessive fan/stalker and causes Ashley to reconsider her decision to partake in the web series.
Lucky Bastard's tension begins to wane once the murder and mayhem commences. Too many coincidences pile up during the final act, and the film gets rather talky and drags Dave's rampage longer than it needs to be. Also, by the end, you might wonder, "What is Lucky Bastard trying to say?" Is it saying that there are mentally unstable people out there who watch porn? Or that porn stars are human beings with feelings who join the porn industry because they have no other ways of making ends meet? Or that sex is all in your head, as one porn star says? Either way, neither of those are particularly surprising, deep or insightful enough to make the film as provocative as it could have been.
A zombie outbreak has been stopped thanks to a pharmaceutical drug that those afflicted with the zombie virus back to human form. Those former zombies, known as "returned", must take the drug daily for the rest of their lives. Kate (Emily Hampshire), a doctor, leads the drug research for a possible cure to the zombie virus once and for all. Her boyfriend, Alex (Kris Holden-Reid), is among the "returned", but he hides that fact from everyone except Kate. Everything seems like it's headed in the right direction until it turns out that there's a shortage of the drug. Kate luckily has a colleague who gives her some drugs she smuggled from the hospital to help Alex maintain his daily dosage, but not for long.
The Returned offers quite a refreshingly subversive premise for a zombie film. There are no zombies attacking zombies to shreds or long zombie chases. Screenwriter Hatem Khraiche grounds the film in many dramatic scenes that make you think and feel rather than hitting you over the head with visceral elements like blood and guts. In other words, there's more psychological horror here than in most zombie films. Alex reacts exactly like any frightened human being would react when inflicted with the zombie virus: by hiding his disease from the public. His girlfriend's reactions also feel very true-to-life and complex to boot. The lengths that she goes to keep Alex zombie-free shows how much she loves him, but does that excuse her using stolen drugs? What would you do in that situation? The answers to those and other provocative questions aren't easy to answer and aren't really explored here, but how often do you even get the chance to ask those kind of questions in a zombie film? Most of them are dumbed-down, tedious and shallow or just pure, guilty-pleasure fun a la Sean of the Dead. The Returned has some depth, but it also leaves some room for interpretation and debate while remaining intelligent for the most part. The only gimmicky aspect to the film is a twist in the third act that comes across as tacked-on and unnecessary.
Director Manuel Carballo should be commended for including solid cinematography that doesn't rely on shaky-cam or headache-inducing jump cuts and, most importantly, for avoiding the temptation to make this a "found footage" film which is already becoming a worn-out genre. Everything from the lighting to the set and sound design looks impressive, especially given that the budget is much less than that of a Hollywood film. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, The Returned manages to be refreshingly intelligent, subversive and psychologically terrifying. It's much more than your average zombie film.
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