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Ah yes...France. The land of croissants, berets and zombies. You may think the last item on that insultingly reductive list does not belong, but you would be wrong. Filmmakers Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher have breathed a little life into the undead with their French zombie action flick, The Horde. It plays like Assault on Banlieue 13 meets Dawn of Le Dead and that's not a bad thing at all.
We start the film with a group of people in mourning. Four police officers have just lost one of their own and they desperately want a taste of revenge before the night is over. They slip into vigilante mode with the understanding that some gangland justice is in order. One stealthy approach later they are standing outside the apartment where Ade (Eriq Ebouaney), his trigger-happy brother Bola (Doudou Masta) and their gang are holed up. This is when la merde promptly hits the fan. Before the cops can launch their assault, Ade's men open fire and wound a couple of them. Captured and bleeding, the cops await their impending death when things actually manage to get worse.
A sudden and bloody attack by a zombie quickly levels the playing field between cops and criminals as they realize they have all become guppies in a shark tank. While the survivors of the attack grudgingly band together, we find out that something unexplained and awful has happened in the city surrounding them. There are flames and zombies for as far as the eye can see. The apartment building has become a temporary fortress keeping out the undead masses who are trying to claw their way in. This doesn't mean much to the survivors since there are already a few murderous creatures inside the building, as evidenced by the first attack. Now they'll have to cooperate if any of them plan on making it out alive.
The Horde is derivative, repetitive and paper-thin when it comes to characters and plot...and I loved every minute of it. Before you go calling me a hypocrite (get in line), let me just say that sometimes the most effective thing a film can do is be the best possible version of itself. Horror fanatics have seen plenty of zombie movies and Dahan and Rocher recognize this. They don't bother offering an explanation for the zombie outbreak because frankly we don't need one to appreciate the central conflict. A few folks resort to extreme measures to survive the advances of other recently deceased folks. It's that simple. Using this shorthand allows us to cut right to the chase and appreciate the film for what it is: an action film featuring zombies. My choice of words is deliberate because this is first and foremost an action movie. The fact that the antagonists are zombies just gives the proceedings a deliciously brutal edge.
I mentioned earlier that the characters are fairly one-dimensional but this shouldn't be viewed as too much of a slam against the film. The real fun comes in watching the continually shifting dynamic of the group. Through a series of plot machinations, we get folks being separated from and rejoining the group at different points in time. While a bit contrived, this tactic keeps things fresh by allowing characters to question whose side they are really on. The most memorable performances belong to Ebouaney as the lead gangster and Claude Perron as a female cop with a secret. Ebouaney plays a ruthless bastard but somehow makes us root for him to get out alive. Perron is hard-bitten to the core and maintains a singular focus throughout the climax. Although the other characters leave less of an impact, they all get their respective moments in the sun with flashy heroics and/or gory finishes.
While Dahan and Rocher are clearly standing on the shoulders of giants here, they have used their film debut to create quite the calling card for themselves. The Horde is bloody, tense and paced like a bullet train. I, for one, enjoyed the ride.
The movie was presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. I found the image to be clear and free of any defects. Given the subject matter, there were plenty of dark scenes in the film but they exhibited excellent shadow detail. The color palette accurately reflected the dingy and grimy environment of the apartment building / battlefield. I thought this was a very good visual presentation of the film.
The audio was presented in French 5.1 and English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mixes. I chose to view the film with the original French track and found it to be very well balanced. The rear surrounds regularly made their presence felt during the numerous set pieces. Altogether this mix was well matched for the material. English and Spanish subtitles were available.
This release carries an extensive slate of worthwhile extras so let's jump right in. First up, we have an Alternate Opening (8:16) to the film. While not altering the course of the film, it offers a few extra character-building moments for the vengeful cops. They are presented with a harder edge which makes their sudden disposal by Ade's gang a little more shocking. Unfortunately it does spoil a reveal which comes later in the film and reduces its impact. For this reason alone, its exclusion is probably for the best.
Up next we have a Making of (19:52) featurette. Dahan, Rocher and the entire cast discuss the filming process with obvious enthusiasm. It's clear that the actors relish the opportunity to make a gory genre film. The directors talk about their influences and try to define The Horde's place in French cinema. We also get a close look at some of the zombie attacks that employed a large number of extras from the rough-and-tumble neighborhood they were filming in.
The Short Film "Rivoallan" (8:50) acts as a prequel to the The Horde by showing us how the titular cop, Rivoallan, met his end thus forcing his four friends into action. This is an energetic piece that plays like a tense slice of crime drama with an expected downer of a climax. Two Deleted Scenes (8:09) build up Claude Perron's big reveal in the film and show another cop self-medicating to numb his pain. Drawing Studies for the Zombies and Sets and Storyboard Extracts are presented as sets of stills while Poster Projects gives us all the publicity artwork for the film in exhausting detail. A French Teaser (1:39) and US Trailer (1:33) close out the disc.
Zombies get reacquainted with machetes and shotguns in The Horde. Directors Dahan and Rocher don't really bring anything new to the horror genre but they do offer a fresh action packed spin on the undead. Come for the gore but stay for the bare-knuckle boxing and double fisted guns. Highly Recommended.