Thursday, July 12, 2012
VELVET ROAD: Zombies in the Deep South
Velvet Road (2011)
Directed by L. Gustavo Cooper
Written by Bragi F. Schut and Alexandria Lewis
Velvet Road Official Site
What if the Bay of Pigs fiasco or the looming dread of the impending Vietnam War weren't the worst things to worry about in the 1960's? What if the biggest struggle on our own soil - that for civil rights - wasn't waged in quite the way we're familiar? These moments in our turbulent history - the decade in which the U.S. lost its "innocence" - might have been shaped differently had a different kind of threat been introduced: a zombie apocalypse. This is the framework chosen by first time director L. Gustavo Cooper in his fantastic debut short Velvet Road.
Finding a new angle on the standard Romero-esque zombie outbreak story is perhaps the biggest challenge facing directors who choose to partake in the popular genre. Cooper and his crew may have found a loophole. By bringing his story full circle back to the era where Romero's mythos first started, they've somehow made it fresher. Although not overtly political, Velvet Road has lots of room for lofty and relevant discussion. In his film, the black community is blamed when a zombie outbreak hits the deep south. Writers Bragi F. Schut and Alexandria Lewis bring a whole new dimension to the racial tension of that torrid era. They lace their fast moving tale with several moral dilemmas, quite a feat for a relatively short film. They are careful to provide a sense of ambiguity so that the anguish of our characters is palpable. There are no clear cut right or wrong responses, and the film is more effective for it.
After a stunning opening that really gives us a sense of the time period, the film takes us to a barren rural road where Bobby (Thomas R. Martin) rushes with his wife Carolyn (Heather Ricks) to escape a mysterious plague. We soon learn that she has been bitten, succumbing quickly to the effects of a virus. In the haste of fear and adrenaline, Bobby crashes their pickup truck amidst the farming fields. Awakening in the wreckage, Bobby finds Carolyn missing. Wounded and disoriented, his search for Carolyn brings him to a deadly encounter with huge moral implications when he finds a black man handcuffed to the back seat of a police car. With a zombie threat looming, should Bobby free the man, or will fear and prejudice influence his choice? Bobby will face other heartbreaking choices as the story progresses.
Velvet Road has many strengths. The cinematography by Andy Howell is among the best I've seen in any format thus far this year. The film is anchored by powerful, convincing performances by its core cast. The practical makeup effects are startling, and succeed in making zombies scary again. The pacing, thanks to excellent editing, is brisk, and Gustavo and company leave us wanting more by the film's end. I believe there are plans to expand into a feature length film, and there's plenty of room to grow from this exceptional foundation. If Cooper continues with this cast and crew, his feature version will be at the top of my must watch list.
Velvet Road is without-a-doubt a gorgeous and moving film. Despite existing in a world decades removed from today, its central themes are still relevant.Where most recent zombie films have gone off the track of making political statements, Velvet Road urges us right back in with an intimate and emotional setting that doesn't hit the viewer over the head with an agenda, but is clearly designed to make us think about things. The sobering, bleak climax leaves little hope other than a great future for Cooper as a filmmaker. For his characters, that's another story. Highly recommended!
Velvet Road Trailer
Velvet Road Trailer from Andrew Howell on Vimeo.