In the trailer for this movie, the main character mentions Wausau twice, and is clearly desperate to get there. Having been to Wausau myself, my first reaction was to wonder why in the world anyone would be so anxious to get there. There's really nothing at all exciting about the place. As far as the movie goes, however, it isn't the place but the people.
When the zombie apocalypse begins, Charlie (Joe Belknap) is in Toledo, Ohio. Charlie's girlfriend Samantha (Mary Lindberg), unhappily, is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, some 550 miles away, having gone there for a three month internship. Everyone who isn't infected is trying to evacuate, but troops have surrounded the city to contain the zombie outbreak. No one says as much, but my guess is that the CDC is still busily denying any such thing as a zombie outbreak.
Anyway, Samantha calls Charlie when everything starts going wrong. She has a friend who has a canoe and they're going to try to make a break for it, down the East River and then into Wisconsin. It is, after all, a great place for a getaway. Thinking fast, Charlie tells Samantha to head for Wausau, which is where they first met, at a wedding. He'll meet her at the restaurant where they had the rehearsal dinner. She thinks it's a crazy plan, but it's the only one they've got, so she agrees.
With a long trek ahead of him, Charlie joins forces with a small group of other survivors. I talked a little about the movie with a friend of mine, who promptly tried to name all the usual monster movie character stereotypes, but that's wasted effort here. There are no high school jocks and definitely no cheerleaders, just five regular people trying to survive. Of course, Charlie wants a little more than that -- he wants to survive in Wausau, and he'll do whatever it takes to get there. It's his overall plan they're following, since according to him Wausau is the perfect destination. He might be right there, since all I really recall about the place is how easy it is to get lost there. Maybe the zombies will get all turned around, too.
I mentioned that Collapse wasn't just a zombie movie. This is even less a zombie movie. It might just as easily have been any other sort of apocalypse that sparked everything, except that wouldn't have been nearly as good. At any moment you might discover that your best friend, your brother, or the next door neighbor who always gives you a friendly wave is now a mindless shell of the person you remember, and that mindless shell now wants you dead as quickly as possible. There's a special kind of terror in that knowledge. There's even greater terror in the discovery the characters make: that you don't have to join the ranks of the undead to lose your humanity. And that's why this is very definitely a horror movie even though the zombies are rarely on screen.
At times it seems like they're working a little too hard to keep the zombies off the screen, actually, but aside from a few issues there the camera work was good. Even when the characters are walking through nothing but wide open spaces, everything still seems claustrophobic. More horror movies should be filmed outside in the winter. It's beautiful, but very stark and creepy, much like the rest of the film.
The story moves back and forth between Charlie's present struggles and flashbacks of his relationship with Samantha, spiraling back from the last time he saw her to the first moment he laid eyes on her. That might sound confusing but it works very well and gives an unsettling sense of Charlie's life unraveling bit by bit. Fair warning; you won't be able to get the last scene out of your head for a long time. Y'know, unless you get zombified.
Four out of five. I can't give full marks for the acting, I'm afraid, which is uneven, or for the chemistry between Charlie and Samantha, which... just isn't. But the plot is wonderful and that makes up for a lot. All of Charlie's traveling companions do a good acting job, though, particularly Aaron Christensen as Thomas, the group's leader, and Michelle Courvais as Meredith. I also liked Steve Herson and Cheri Sandlin as husband and wife Harrison and Ellen. When asked how they plan to survive, Harrison grins and replies, "Day by day." That's really the only answer anyone could give, but not Charlie, who thinks anyone less obsessed with a single overriding goal than he is must be crazy. And that's what weighs him down.
Look for Dead Weight at a film festival near you!