“The overall effect of Hungerford is one of intense irritation.”
What the world doesn’t need right now is another low-budget zombie movie. What the world also doesn’t need right now is another run-of-the-mill found footage film. Writer, director and actor Drew Casson has given us a poor combination of the two.
It’s been a troubling trend since the found footage film was born – with The Blair Witch Project (1999) – that filmmakers have seen the genre as a way of getting a movie made on the cheap. It seems that the format decides the story which will fit around it, rather than the other way round. The genre also seems like a scapegoat from a special effects point of view, a way of excusing the lack of anything monstrous on screen as the camera doesn’t need to point at it. Casson seems to have taken these concerns to the next level. This is obviously a very low-budget movie, and it looks every inch of it.
The plot kicks off with a promising special effect that sees an enormous purple electric space cloud hovering in the distant skies over the town of Hungerford. The cloud brings with it fist-sized, rubber-like alien insects. These insects burrow through the backs of their victims’ necks and take control of their hosts. Once infected the hosts take a turn for the 28 Days Later (2002), and as such will be one for the ‘are they or are they not technically zombies’ pile.
Our protagonists, Cowen Rosewell (Casson) and his fellow students Adam (Tom Scarlett), Kipper (Sam Carter) and Janine (Kitty Speed) must battle their way through the ‘zombies’ to rescue the abducted Phil (Georgia Bradley) from the alien’s abandoned factory stronghold. This is when you notice how unconvincing and lazily made-up the zombies are. Then you notice how cheap everything else is.
The zombies don’t look particularly different from normal people. A few have dirty clothes and even fewer have nosebleeds. At times it resembles an Andrew W.K. concert gone wrong. They just stumble around with stereotypical zombie mannerisms and fail to be threatening in any way, especially apparent when they attack as they do so in a staged and held-back manner. Also there are never enough of them. Everyone knows that zombies need to come in hordes. Coming in dribs and drabs as they do in Hungerford, they should be nothing more than an easily dealt with obstacle.
Their threat is diminished further when it’s revealed that it takes nothing more than a spray with a can of aerosol to remove the insects from their hosts’ bodies, eliminating the zombie. It’s such a common, easily obtained resource that it’s almost a more grievous error than the aliens in Signs (2002) being allergic to water. It’s possible that Casson was aiming for this to be funny, but there are no laughs to be found in this film.
From the failure of the zombies, our eyes are left to wander the wider effects of their invasion. They are non-existent. From the streets to the countryside and houses, everything looks perfectly in order. The street is a little quiet at one point, but as the orange hue and town clock in shot tell us, it’s about half past four in the morning, so nothing to worry about. The town is supposedly the epicentre of an alien-zombie invasion, with mass acts of violence across town. But there are no signs of struggles or carnage, no blood or even tipped over bins anywhere to be seen. This problem is most clear in the large country house visited twice in the film. In the second, post-invasion, instance the house looks like a show home. There’s a specific moment in this section in which Cowen, heard screaming behind a door, shoulder-barges it open in a measured, slow and considered manner. It’s a real fourth-wall breaker. Obviously there was no budget to remove the door and replace it with a prop one, or to simply kick it in and replace it. It seems the only option was to open the door as dramatically as possible whilst causing the least amount of damage to the owner’s property. It’s further moments like this where consideration of expenses is Hungerford’s most obvious facet, and it pollutes the entire feel
If the visual quality of the film wasn’t off-putting enough, the small crew we spend our time with are equally cringe-worthy. Casson himself is miscast as the group’s leader, having no gravitas or authority. There are some unconvincing and nonsensical choices made in his dialogue delivery and look. He might be a scrapper to his friends, but the audience are given absolutely nothing to tell them he’s a leader worthy of following. We really need something to rationalise why everyone rallies around him, more than the fact they just do. [As a side note, if I had hair that grabbable in a zombie invasion, it’s the first thing I’d give the chop.]
There’s uniformly poor acting from the rest of the cast, most of which don’t possess individual voices. There’s a clear stab at making Kipper the nerdy one early on but this soon fades into the morass of the other characters, all just screaming and panicking. None of them are particularly intelligent or stupid, funny or morbid. This might be an accurate portrayal of a group of friends, but it isn’t an entertaining one.
The final nail in the coffin is one of insensitivity, intended or not. One of the most harrowing events from the real life Hungerford massacre was when the killer ordered a mother to put her two children in her car before murdering her in the forest. There is a sequence in the film in which Cowan and Kipper come across two lone children in a car, in the forest, whose parents have evidently met their end. It’s hard to tell whether this is an intended reference or not. If Hungerford is trying to draw some kind of analogy, then it’s a crass, unnecessary and confused one. If it’s accidental, you would have hoped the writers Casson and Jess Cleverly would have done some research while writing a script based on panic and violence gripping Hungerford, to avoid accidental allusions. From the quality of the film it seems more than likely to be accidental. Regardless, it leaves a very unpleasant taste.
The overall effect of Hungerford is one of intense irritation. There’s no doubt that Drew Casson will go on to do some interesting and probably very good things as his career advances as there’s a lot of talent here for such a young filmmaker. However, to give proper respect to the piece – and so to judge the film as just the film – Hungerford is not worth anyone’s time.
Director: Drew Casson
Writers: Drew Casson, Jess Cleverly
Starring: Georgia Bradley, Sam Carter, Drew Casson, Kitty Speed
Running time: 79 minutes
Cinema release date: 3 May 2014