By this point in time, zombies have been done to undeath. Since RESIDENT EVIL and 28 DAYS LATER hit back in the early 2000s, every aspect of both horror culture and pop culture has been infested. So it takes a lot at this point to get me to watch anything associated with zombies. A few years ago, before the zombie craze was in full stir, DE writer T.D. Clark suggested I watch THE HORDE, a French made zombie flick. I highly regard his opinion, so though it took a while, I finally got to it. While it holds too strongly to some clichés, it does just enough for it to rise above the smoldering stink of the undead masses.
The setup is simple: Four rogue cops break into a nearly abandoned building to kill a group of gangsters who’ve killed one of their own. The operation goes bad, they get caught, and then a zombie outbreak erupts in Paris, and worse for them, within the building. The leader of the cops, Ouess, makes a truce with the head mobster Adé, as both men know they’ll all die if they don’t join forces.
This setup is great. It sets the stage for thick tension before the zombies even hit. Ouess and Adé are the only two who understand the need for this truce; Adé’s brother Bola is too hotheaded, and their partner José is too big a scumbag to listen to anyone; Aurore, the female cop who had a relationship with the cop they killed, is too Hellbent on the rogue cops’ original mission, and refuses to understand the rules have changed. I never knew if one or more of them would break the truce along the way. To hold that type of tension for almost a full film is impressive.
Sadly, the walking dead are unimpressive, and are the weakest element of the film. Bred from the 28 DAYS LATER school of zombies, they hiss a lot and run like cheetahs. Their numbers multiply in accordance with the needs of the script, adding a lot of false tension when the real tension is between the two groups. There’s nothing distinctive about these zombies (watch any of Romero’s zombie films and you can always pick some out), they’re not particularly scary (likely because I know what to expect from the rote hordes by now) and they’d been done the same way for almost a decade by the time THE HORDE was made. They’re generic, predictable, and worst of all, boring.
Crazed rioters would have made more sense than zombies, given the Paris riots of 2005, when an oppressed underclass forced to live in ghettos decided to start burning cars and buildings, setting Paris into chaos. This flick seems to be aiming toward that, with scenes of a faraway Paris under siege, lighting up the sky with explosions. Adé and his brother are Nigerians, the sorts who would’ve grown up in slums such as this and turned to gang warfare and drug dealing. The cops find it okay to execute the thugs without any sort of trial. The building is a disgusting slum, left behind by anyone who had a chance to escape it. Add all this up, and it’s easy to see the filmmakers are adding a social commentary here. That makes sense, as filmmakers have used zombies to comment on things since WHITE ZOMBIE back in the 1930s. The problem with THE HORDE is, the commentary here is weak. Even with all the elements there, the flick whiffs out. I wish they would’ve made a stronger statement, if they were going to make one at all. Instead, it feels as if the flick actually betrays those rioters and the mistrusting cops who sought to reestablish order, tossing them aside for gunplay, action and lots of running, hissing and screaming.
THE HORDE’s greatest weakness is also its greatest strength. Toss out the zombie silliness, replace the focus with gunplay, action and lots of running, hissing and screaming, and there’s a great action flick here. An insane amount of bullets get fired, accompanied by enough blood spray to hose a healthy-sized backyard. The dark, winding halls of the building provide a great atmosphere, as does the music, which is more an action movie score. Adé is a powerful Black man, with a fire in his eyes as he tries to analyze the situation while maintaining control of his brutish gang. He’s the perfect partner for Ouess, who is slight of build and more levelheaded than Aurore, but also a lot less sure. Together, the two and their groups will fulfill a number of action flick clichés that, although utterly ridiculous most times, suit THE HORDE well.
I’d be remiss not to mention René. Midway through the escape, the men come across this tenant, who’s blown a hole in the floor and taken out a slew of zombies. René is most interesting because he has no allegiance to either side. He’s a war vet who’s psyched up on killing zombies. He’s also insane. And a racist. He constantly refers to his former war enemies and the zombies as “Chinks,” and revels in slaughter. And there’s a disturbing scene where he and two others want to rape a zombie they’ve captured. He’s intended to be comic relief, but he’s actually creepier than any of the zombies or thugs. I cringe when I think of what he’d have done outside of his apartment, set free on the world.
There’s also a Shock Ending, which no one should find shocking. Given the mission, Aurore acts as her character dictates she should. I don’t agree with her choice, but the sounds offscreen for the last seconds before the credits indicate her fate is sealed, just like the rest of theirs.
Co-director Benjamin Rocher would follow THE HORDE with GOAL OF THE DEAD, a zombie flick revolving around a soccer match. After I watched its trailer, I recognized Rocher’s obsessions include action scene, riots and the undead. If you clip the latter, THE HORDE is a gritty, exciting flick, full of tension. As for the undead, they’re no longer my obsession.