Cleanse the Leper, Cast Out Demons... AWAKEN THE DEAD! Scary thoughts? Sure! But what's terrifying in these times of terror? Well, I'm guessing the answer Jeffery McMichael Brookshire would put forth is one I could endorse myself... "Zombies".
Zombies, man! Hence the name... and if the biblical allusion doesn't grab you, let me tell you now, the main character is a Priest.
That doesn't give Awaken the Dead some eternal ray of sunshine, after all, this is a Zombie Flick... and an independent Zombie Flick at that. That said, one of the major issues that tend to mar many "Ultra Indies" is the lighting... or lack thereof. Perhaps a ray of sunshine (eternal or otherwise) might be in order. It could be argued that Jeff Brookshire (acting as Writer, Director, Editor and even Casting Director - making his cameo appearance a slam dunk) intended the dim, strange other-worldly look that the lighting affords the film. However, when other scenes lit in florescent glows look incongruously perfectly lit, the contrast points to an unintended consequence of budget.
There are a good many of these during the 104 minute runtime of Awaken the Dead, mostly notably in the special effects areas. But here's the thing about Awaken the Dead, if follows what Uncle George Romero likes to call "Guerilla Film Making". At times the shortcuts and avant-garde artistry work well for the film, at times they look a bit cheap, like something The Asylum might release.
What separates Awaken the Dead from the fare that spews out of "The House of Mess" is the story and, in most cases, the acting. Gary Kohn stars as Father Christopher a priest with a dark past and a fondness for alcohol. He wakes up, finds a note in a red envelope with instructions he doesn't want to follow, grabs his collar and heads out to hang around in a house he would prefer not to go to with a woman who would much rather he not show up.
Other than that, his day sucked. Thanks for asking.
The note is from a man from his past named Jeremiah (Michael Robert Nyman), telling Christopher to go to Jeremiah's house to wait for him. Meanwhile in that same house Jeremiah's daughter Mary (sweet Lindsey Morris) wakes up naked (not that we get to see anything) to find a similar note telling her to wait for ol' Daddy to get home.
Although Christopher and Mary aren't getting along worth a flying flip, things get worse first when a gargantuan psycho named Grin (Will Harris) bursts in... and second when the ubiquitous Zombie Outbreak hits Walnut, California. Yep, just like that.
Not that this is a problem... in fact, it's handled pretty damned cool. Two hot Asian Schoolgirls (Sharon Senina and Krissy Sugatan) in miniskirts watch a fighter plane zoom overhead, then, just like that they turn around and they've gone all zombified. Yeah, they're not so hot now. They looked better before.
What doesn't work quite as well is the fact that almost immediately Christopher and Mary fall into those standard Zombie Fighting roles, hardly seeming terribly surprised (merely perturbed) that the Southland has become UNDEAD! After that coin-flip, other folks begin showing up filling in similar Night of the Living Dead-type roles. Nate Witty's Stanley, for example, is the reserved, fraidy guy who is forced to become a hero while Paul Dion Monte's Nick and Aurora Corcuera's Michelle are the angry couple on the run from zombies... with a secret of their own. All the while, with the hoards going mad, amid the chaos a normal human being (Jeremy Jones' The Watcher) just hangs around taking notes.
In the quieter moments, however, Awaken the Dead doesn't come off as derivative, but intelligent and well-acted, especially during the scenes between Morris and Kohn (and later, Nyman). Later addition Dominiqua Alexis (as Delilah) is also a stand out.
Morris and Kohn, however, successfully keep the film going and strengthen the script's power to engross the viewer. Kohn is very capable (and likeable) as the fallen Priest, at once cool and solemn. He does tend to remind one of the title character from Garth Ennis' The Preacher, but there are worse writers to be compared to than Ennis! Morris is very sexy and feminine in a petite way, but has a darkness all her own. She's a good enough actress to pull off all of the facets that are revealed in Mary.
Though some of Brookshire's camera tricks and affects can come off as attention given to some of the wrong areas, his directing is fine (especially for a first time feature) and he's not allowed to frame a scene in a subtle way, allowing the entire screen to reveal his art. The special effects are pretty decent for the low-budget we see here, but some of the special make-up and gore effects tend to look like near-uniform masks chosen for ease of application. Again, however, we're looking at a Guerilla Film made with an inventive, independent spirit... and I'll be dipped in Karo and thrown to the ants if these elements didn't help make this a pretty good, inventive, independent film.
Clearly, Jeff Brookshire cared about his film and wanted to make it fun and interesting at the same time. And it is... what's more, it looks like it was a fun film to make. While the well-thought-out, paranoid plot can certainly be taken seriously, Awaken the Dead never takes itself too seriously. This may not be Shaun of the Dead, but it's hard not to laugh at some of the well-delivered, witty dialogue.
Brookshire also seems to have the pedigree up in that head of his, considering the subtle (but notable) influences that show up as winks during the run time. These help make Awaken the Dead worth watching... and worth Three Stars out of Five. What fun it is. Fun and further proof that when the Zombie Apocalypse finally hits Earth (through what ever means), you don't call the government, you don't call the cops, you don't call Daddy... you call a Priest!
See you in the next reel, Father!
Don't open the door,
Don't listen to Daddy,
Don't Answer the Phone,
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