I went to a horror film festival. I’m not sure if I should be proud of my progress in not being scared by anything and everything, or terrified that I’m being drawn to the dark side. Hopefully they still have cookies, at least.

I went to a horror film festival. I’m not sure if I should be proud of my progress in not being scared by anything and everything, or terrified that I’m being drawn to the dark side. Hopefully they still have cookies, at least.

The Morgans, mom, dad, and son, live on their family farm outside a small town in Iowa. Dad Robert, played by Chris Mulkey of Cloverfield, refuses to sell said family farm off to the bigger ones all around him, even though he’s having terrible financial problems. Unpaid bills stack up, and his farmhand, Hank (Mike Tweeton), hasn’t been paid in three weeks and has just turned in his notice. Robert’s wife Molly — helpfully played by Chris Mulkey’s real-life wife, Karen Landry — isn’t well, and hasn’t been since their daughter died six months ago. It seems psychosomatic, involving inexplicable pains, but it still adds doctor bills to the stack. And teenage son Will (Travis Slade Reinders) is feeling lost amongst all the financial and medical chaos, with Hank his only friend. His parents can’t even make it to his track meets. (Watch for Linnea Quigley, star of such B-movie horror classics as Zombiegeddon and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, playing Mrs. Bell, Will’s track coach.)

Rough as it is, Robert is determined to protect what’s left of his family and goes to great lengths to shield them from the true extent of the problems. Then, in the middle of all this, here comes a zombie, out prowling for blood while wearing a green and white striped sweater vest. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Robert goes into full survivalist mode. He boards up the windows, makes repeated, futile attempts to contact someone via CB radio — the survivalist’s favorite low-tech communications option — and stays up for days on end keeping watch, shotgun clutched in his hands. Like many farmers, he has several guns in the house, a good supply of ammo, and a generator in the barn, so he’s pretty much all set for a siege. But food is a problem, not to mention medical supplies. Will was hurt in that first zombie encounter (which killed Hank), and Molly needs her medicine, too. Robert also has a surprisingly large supply of pre-filled syringes containing some form of sedative, which… isn’t so usual on farms, but comes in quite handy at times. It’s also a little strange to hear him telling his wife to take her pills and try to get some rest, often at the most inappropriate times.

Eventually, Robert has to venture out for supplies. There are two basic types of zombie: the old-school kind that shamble slowly and relentlessly, and the modern, quick kind as in 28 Weeks Later. These are definitely shamblers, being some of the slowest zombies ever, and I think it would have been better if they’d picked up the pace a little. At times Robert was racing to get somewhere, and I was wondering why he was wasting the energy when he could have strolled casually instead and still beaten the zombies by a mile. He’s also remarkably unconcerned with the supplies he goes out to get, leaving both a can of gas and a bag of food behind at various points, though at least he does realize (too late) that he’s forgotten the food and kicks himself over it. And I’ll never understand why he kept locking his guns and ammo in the trunk of his car.

Speaking of guns, Robert also stumbles across and nearly shoots poor Dana, hiding out in a bait and tackle shop. She’s played by Angela Dezen, who also played the little girl in Groundhog Day who was perpetually kicked out of her music lesson every time Bill Murray waved money at the piano teacher. I feel old when actors I remember seeing as kids reappear all grown up.

The thing is, this is far from just a zombie movie. Aside from Will, whose performance gets a little doubtful at times once the weird things start happening, the acting is good and believable. You feel pulled in to Robert’s struggle and want to help him, even when he’s doing silly things. Once I came very close to yelling at him to turn around when a zombie was coming up behind him, and I don’t usually do that sort of thing. The scenes with Molly waiting for Robert’s return in particular are claustrophobic, nicely psychologically creepy, and the last scene is excellent, very intense. The audience was talking enthusiastically about the film as the lights came up, and that doesn’t happen often enough, even at festivals.

On the down side, aside from the aforementioned odd things Robert does, the camera work is confusing at times. During the final showdown, it was sometimes hard to tell exactly what was going on. Some of that was purely budgetary — there were things they just couldn’t show on screen because it would have been prohibitively expensive — but some of it seemed to be tricky camera angles that just didn’t work out, or maybe some kind of editing problem.

Overall, though, I liked it, and I’ll give it a solid three and a half out of five. The filmmakers enjoy what they’re doing and it shows. Despite the zombies, it’s a very real and down to earth film, with characters you might find in your own town. Let’s just hope they aren’t trying to eat your brains when you meet them on the sidewalk.