Writer: John Doolan
Director: Colin Theys
Back in 2004, writer Steve Niles and artist Kieron Dwyer created "Remains," a five issue comic book series that was published by IDW in 2004. While Niles is best known for creating the "30 Days of Night" franchise, "Remains" wasn't as quick to achieve its live action adaptation.
Chiller stepped up to adapt "Remains" as a low budget TV movie, with Niles attached as a producer, a script by John Doolan and Colin Theys as the director. Outside of HBO and USA, TV movies appear to be a dying phenomena, so I applaud the ambition behind this project.
However, the execution doesn't live up to the source material.
"Remains" takes place in Reno, Nevada on a seemingly normal day. The world's eyes are on a peace initiative to render the U.S. nuclear arsenal completely inert, while the resident employees of a rundown casino and hotel go about their business. Two of the workers, Tom (Grant Bowler) and Tori (Evalena Marie) duck into a storage room to engage in a drug fueled sexual tryst. Suddenly, they're locked in the room as a massive burst of energy from the peace initiative engulfs the city and kills the power.
Hours later, Tom and Tori escape from their predicament to find that they and a failed stage magician named Jensen (Miko Hughes) are apparently the only survivors within the casino, with everyone else turned into flesh eating zombies. They soon take in a fourth survivor, Victor (Anthony Marks) after witnessing him sacrificing another man for his own safety.
The earliest parts of "Remains" work best when the filmmakers are able to hide some of the budget's shortcomings. Aside from the old lady zombie near the beginning, most of the zombie makeup and effects are pretty good. There are even some nice "jump" moments as the survivors attempt to clean out the hotel of the undead. One of the most effective scenes comes when Tom and Tori find a banquet hall filled with zombies eating in the dark, with only their flashlights providing illumination before they silently lock the zombies inside.
One of the more interesting things about "Remains" is that it presents the zombies as still being bound by certain biological rules. They still need to sleep and they don't shy away from eating themselves or each other to feed their everlasting hunger. We're told that they also piss, but we're thankfully spared from that image. Less effective are the so-called super zombies introduced late in the film. Aside from being more willing to attack their brethren, they really don't seem that special.
The low budget starts creeping back into the film at inopportune moments. At one point, Tom and Tori stage a daring escape from a zombie infested room by jumping out of the window and into the pool below. But the action completely skips the jump through the window and cuts to the unconvincing landing. It's like the production team realized that they couldn't afford the stunt and they hoped that the audience wouldn't mind just seeing the aftermath.
If the characters in "Remains" had been compelling and well written, a lot of the underlying flaws of the movie could have been overlooked. But neither Tom, Tori, Victor or Jensen ever come off as more than ciphers. But when Ramsey (Lance Reddick) and his soldiers show up, "Remains" gets a much needed shot in the arm. Reddick brings so much weight to his scenes that you might wish that he had been the star of this movie.
Ramsey's daughter, Cindy (Tawny Cypress) takes a liking to Tom while the soldiers keep deadly secrets from the first four survivors. Suffice to say, Ramsey doesn't have everyone's best interests at heart and one of the survivors ends up dead at the hands of his men. Another survivor simply disappears from the story in an unsatisfactory manner, never to be seen again.
Ultimately, Tom and Tori are left alone and without supplies; which could have had great dramatic potential. Instead, Bowler and Marie come off of as listless around each other. The most ludicrous moment of the movie comes when Cindy speeds back to the casino and crashes her car in one of the worst uses of CGI that I've ever seen. If there was anything that should have been left on the cutting room floor, that was it.
This also leads to a fairly unconvincing budding relationship between Cindy and Tom, along with Tori's eventual reaction; both of which I had trouble believing in. It's a series of character turns that seem to undercut the rest of the story. After spending so much time trying to make us care about Tom and Tori, the focus shits to Tom and Cindy and it just doesn't work.
The climax of the film throws everything else out in an attempt to escalate the action. The fate of one of the survivors is unintentionally hilarious, as they live through an explosion largely without injuries before being swarmed by a horde of zombies… only to show up infected and relatively intact in the closing moments!
A stronger script and better casting could have made this film worthwhile. Instead, "Remains" is a largely unrewarding viewing experience, with only a few moments of promise scattered throughout.
Crave Online Rating: 5 out of 10.