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Steve Niles' Remains

Shout Factory // Unrated // August 7, 2012
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 24, 2012 | E-mail the Author

Every nuclear power from one end of the globe to the other had finally agreed to disarm, and they even cooked up an oversized oven to dispose of all those pesky warheads once and for all. 'Course, we're all of a couple sentences into a review of a horror flick, so it kinda goes without saying that Peace Day didn't quite go according to plan. It was supposed to be the start of a glorious new day, and
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instead, the world we once knew is dead.

Make that undead, as if you couldn't tell from all the zombies shambling around on the cover there. As if Reno weren't awful enough already, now it -- and, oh, pretty much everywhere else the world over -- is teeming with legions of ravenous, flesh-eating corpses. If the blast didn't get you, the gutmunchers probably scooped out your innards a few minutes later.

Based on the comic miniseries by Steve Niles and Kieron Dwyer, Remains is set in the sort of shitball casino that, even in its better days, looks like it had already been through a zombie apocalypse or two. Only a few of the folks on-staff are still alive and kickin', among them booze-guzzling card dealer Tom (Grant Bowler) and shit-kicking waitress Tori (Evalena Marie). The bad news...? Well, yeah, zombies. The other bad news...? Tom and Tori couldn't really stand the sight of each other before all this, and being two of the last survivors on the planet doesn't exactly have them swapping heart-shaped boxes of chocolate cherry cordials. On the upside, they've got food. They've got liquor. After they pick off the undead scattered around the interior of the hotel, they have a reasonably secure stronghold, Dawn of the Dead-style. Okay, and maybe they'll starve once they polish off what's in the pantry, but at least for now, they ought to be okay. I mean, sooner or later, the military or something is going to swoop in and save the day, right? Right?

I dug the hell out of Remains. The screenplay is impressively sleek and efficient, skipping pretty much the entire prologue in the comics to make way for Instant Zombie Apocalypse. Unlike a lot of low-budget gutmunchers, Remains isn't really one of those movies where the survivors barricade themselves inside and talk about their feelings. You very rarely go more than a couple of minutes without some sort of zombie attack. There is a stretch where some marauders storm in and try to make off with Tim, Tori, and company's supplies, and even when the zombie quotient is dialed down for a while there, shit is still constantly going down. I mean, you're not going to be miserably bored, staring at your iPhone and aggressively refreshing your Twitter feed the whole time. There are a hell of a lot of zombies for sure. Remains isn't what I'd call a splatterfest, but there are some pretty great gore effects, and it's not timid about sloshing around the red stuff. The movie delivers more than its share of solid jolts, and it has a
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magician's knack for distraction. There are a bunch of scenes where Tom and Tori are focused intensely on one lone zombie in the foreground, only to realize moments later that...oh, shit! There are three gutmunchers you never noticed rushing in from the sidelines. However dire a situation looks now, give it a minute and a half, and it'll be a hell of a lot worse.

This adaptation also gets that a lot of what's in the comic is best left on the printed page. Remains is faithful in a lot of ways to that six-issue miniseries from a few years back, but it's been heavily de-comic-ized. Only a couple pages from the first issue made it in here. The zombies are dead silent. There's no day-glo-glowing-green King Zombie. The sequence with the military-type guys in the comic was completely disconnected from the havoc going on in Reno, but the movie more deftly weaves all that together. Steve Niles' comic broke away from some of the traditional zombie tropes, and Remains builds on that with some of its own new ideas as well, such as one particularly intense sequence where the survivors navigate their way down a busy street and try to let sleeping corpses lie. The central cast has also doubled in size from where it was in the comics, although at the end of the day, it's still Tom and Tori's show.

...and, okay, it's not perfect. Though Remains mostly keeps it practical -- one-up over Romero these days! -- a couple of its visual effects look pretty dodgy. The movie takes a lot of its cues from Dawn of the Dead, but you don't get that same sort of characterization that really heightens the stakes, and some of the line readings aren't what I'd call convincing. Though Remains squeezes every last cent and then some out of its lean budget, the seams show at times, such as how a bunch of secondary characters are slaughtered off-screen, "Poochie died on the way back to his home planet"-style.

Whatever, though. Remains is a suspenseful, fast-paced gutmuncher with enough clever, new ideas that it doesn't just seem like it's mindlessly rehashing more of the same, and that's exactly what I want out of a zombie flick right now. Definitely Recommended.

P.S. If you remember Scott Ian and Patton Oswalt's debate from the Remains trade on whether or not zombies should be able to run, then...well, Remains sides with that guy from that band.

It's kind of impressive that Remains was shot on 35mm rather than going the digital route the way most made-for-cable movies are anymore. The downside is that the AVC encode on this Blu-ray disc completely chokes on all that film grain. The texture is blocky and unstable rather than warm and filmic, to the point where it looks more like I'm watching Remains through my crappy, overcompressed HD cable feed
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rather than a shiny, newly-minted Blu-ray disc. I mean, in the sky early on, there's straight-up macroblocking, something I pretty much never see on BD. This is really, really sloppy work.

Detail and clarity are distinctively high-def but rarely impress. The photography tends to be kind of flat, with black levels often coming across as weak and noisy. This seriously looks so much like a high-def cable airing that I had to double-check to make sure that Remains really is a 1080p24 presentation rather than the more cable-friendly 1080i I assumed it was. It just has that look to it.

So, yeah, better than what DVD can deliver but not at all up to the standards I've come to expect out of Blu-ray. Remains is served up on a single-layer Blu-ray disc and is presented at its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Remains gets the 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio treatment and all, but it's presented exclusively in plain-jane stereo. That's kind of a surprise. Then again, it's a pretty lousy stereo mix, so maybe it's for the best that they didn't go for six discrete channels or anything. The recording of the dialogue -- especially early on -- is all over the place. Sometimes it'll sound distant and hollow. Other times it's dull and rumbly. Some of the more loudly shouted lines are clipped. The levels can change dramatically from one scene to the next. Even when you have an axe embedded deep in a zombie's skull or a fucking building being leveled to the ground, Remains sounds more like it's being pumped out of the tinny speakers built into your TV rather than an overpriced home theater rig. It's just that pretty much none of the effects pack a wallop. The stereo audio is so rough that I can't help but this what made it to air? There's so little polish that it genuinely sounds more like an early work-in-progress.

Commentary aside, that's it for audio options. No 5.1 mix. No dubs. No subtitles. No nothin'.

  • Audio Commentary: Producer Andrew Gernhard, director Colin Theys, screenwriter John Dodlan, and makeup effects supervisor Ben Chester pile in front of a single mic for Remains' commentary track. It's a fast, quippy
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    conversation that really sells what it's like to be in the trenches for such an ambitious, low-budget zombie epic. The highlight for me is what a Fincheresque nightmare the hotel in Connecticut where so much of the flick was shot really is, from an elevator rusted by bum-piss to a generator in a stairwell that flooded the entire place with smoke.

  • Road to Reno (11 min.; HD): The three-part prequel, "Road to Reno", follows another group of survivors kneedeep in the zombie apocalypse. The movie proper catches up once hell has already broken loose; here, you get to see the devastation as it happens. There's also a more gradual look at a zombie transformation, something you don't really get to see in Remains.

  • Bloopers (4 min.; HD): Favorite thing about this blooper reel...? The very dramatic ways Evalena Marie will let you know that she's forgotten a line.

  • TV Spots and Promos (5 min.; HD): Also along for the ride are a couple of behind-the-scenes promos, a Comic-Con teaser, and a few scattered TV spots.

Remains comes packaged in a slipcover with a holy-shit-that's-a-huge-spoiler on the back.

The Final Word
Although the technical end of this Blu-ray disc is kind of a letdown, I otherwise had a blast with Remains, an intense gutmuncher with a breakneck pace and an eye towards something at least a little different. Recommended.
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