Ground Zero is yet another new zombie movie, with limited locations to help keep costs down. While it has a potentially interesting setup and some great blood and gore effects, overall it comes off as a bit of a disappointment.
Jairus and Greer (Mike Langer and Sahna Foley) are a pair of professional cleaners. They quickly and discretely dispose of corpses, no questions asked. One of their best clients is Mr. Johnson (David Candland), operative for NatTech, some kind of genetic research company that apparently needs a lot of bodies disappeared. Jairus and Greer are called up for a big job. They need to clean up a number of bodies stored in an abandoned warehouse, and quickly because the warehouse will be swarming with workman later in the day.
What the cleaners don't know is that one of the bodies belongs to Darius (Brian Sheets), an eco-terrorist who has injected himself with a serum stolen from NatTech in an attempt to expose their bio-warfare work. This little detail will, of course, lead to serious problems later. Because of the rushed nature of the job, Mr. Johnson hires two movie quoting amateur cleaners named Jeff and Ted (D. L. Walker and Chris Harvey) to help with the job, but pros Jairus and Greer would rather do without the assistance. The work goes on for a while with no problems, but after a few hours, while Jeff is alone in the room, Darius' body wakes up and attacks him, biting him in the neck.
The film starts to pick up now, as the zombie infection begins to spread through the group, leading to recriminations, guilt, and general interpersonal tension. All the while, Jairus is having to field calls from his overbearing girlfriend, and try to keep Mr. Johnson apprised of the continuing complications. And, really, there's not much more to the film until the inevitable climax.
Ground Zero has got a lot of problems, the primary of which is that the lead actors are ill suited for their roles. Langer and Foley simply don't come off as hard bitten types who dispose of bodies for a living. Langer is positively baby faced, and while it is quite possible to have a baby faced villain, there has to be something in the performance to make us believe that evil (or at least jaded indifference) lurks underneath the cherubic exterior. That "something" isn't here, with either Langer or Foley, and the audience can sense its lack. The next big stumbling block is the writing. The dialogue is at times awkward or sounds a few beats off. More importantly, though, the story is a mess, thematically and plotwise. There seems to be some importance to Jairus' conflicts with his girlfriend, and his inability to either do what it takes to please her, or break off the relationship. But what that importance is, and how it relates to the film is unclear. Are Jairus and Greer in love, and just not admitting it? Is their relationship tainted by their work? We never find out. And as far as the plot goes, the film drags, even though it's only 86 minutes long. There are too many talky scenes, mostly between Jairus and Greer that try to be edgy or cool, and don't quite make it. Jeff and Ted are poorly sketched, and the movie quoting is tiresome.
However, Ground Zero does have one enormous upside, and that is the very cool makeup and effects. The zombie makeup itself is low key, but effective, with lots of bulging veins and cracked lips. One of the extra features shows how they used CG to subtly enhance the look, without coming off as cheesy. The blood and gore are pretty good too, especially the high volume blood vomit that spews from a few people. There are some good neck chomps and stabbing effects that are very nice as well.
Unfortunately, superb effects, whether in a low budget indie such as this, or in the biggest tent pole picture put out by a major studio, are not enough to carry a film. Technically, the execution of Ground Zero is pretty good, with the effects being a major high point. But otherwise, it's drab and mundane. There's never any real sense of excitement or tension, and neither is the film terribly scary. There are a few laughs, but this is definitely not a comedy, and the humor is more in the way of punctuation. Ground Zero doesn't quite know what to do with itself, and the film suffers. Rent it.
The video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks decent, but has a few issues. There is mild grain, aliasing and pixelization from time to time, and details are often washed out in bright light.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and it works well. Dialogue is always clearly audible, and no hiss or other problem can be heard. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.
There are a couple of extras included. They are:
Making of Ground Zero
This featurette is just over 19 minutes long, and features mostly behind the scenes footage, with a voice over by director Channing Lowe. He talks about a lot of the drawbacks to low budget filmmaking and speaks in detail about the zombie makeup, how they achieved the blood vomit effects and the use of squibs for bullet hits. This is actually quite interesting.
Ground Zero Outtakes
This is just over ten minutes long, and features various goofs, giggles and flubbed line reads. It is mildly amusing.
Ground Zero is a film with one area of great excellence, surrounded by mediocrity. The effects in the film are fantastic, but that's the only thing. It's not that much of the film isn't competent: it is. But competence isn't enough to make a great independent film, one also needs inspiration and verve. And there are a number of aspects that definitely need improvement, as well. Horror buffs will find some things to like here, but don't expect to be wowed.