What do you get when you give a writing, directing and producing job to Stuart Brennan, the BAFTA-winning actor most known for zombie flicks? Of course you’ll get a zombie flick!
I was browsing Netflix when I came across Plan Z and thought it was just another mid-10’s zombie survival horror film until I saw Stuart Brennan in the credits. He’s been in so many zombie films by now that he surely knows exactly what to do. So I gave it a peek.
We follow photographer Craig, played by Brennan, who also narrates the film from what sounds like a bathroom, sitting way too close to the microphone. This could be attributed to authenticity, as the narration is done in a found-footage sort of way, where the first few moments of the film makes sure we know he’s narrating after the fact, going over the events that lead him to wherever he is. But for me, it just makes it hard to hear what he is saying.
He immediately starts talking about having a Plan Z, the master plan for survival if the Zombie Apocalypse ever happens. Then he starts listing things you should do to be prepared. Not even 5 minutes in and it feels like I’m watching a budget BBC version of Zombieland.
They quickly get the origin of the zombies out of the way, a quick phone call describing the symptoms and the cause. A mutated flu virus causing respiratory failure, followed by death, followed by reanimation and mindless hunger for human flesh. A big cliché, but I kept watching. There has to be something more, right?
About 20 minutes in we see the first real difference. There is no real action in the film up until that point, and just when you think there is going to be some, it’s just sort of glossed over. The film opts to follow the emotions of the survivors instead. Detailed descriptions of what happened to them, while showing how they feel about it. Reminds me a lot of how war veterans often speak about their experiences, with a mix of anger, sadness and despair.
And that is what Plan Z does differently. Instead of mindless action, we get long, quiet scenes with two survivors, both with clear signs of trauma, who tries to survive emotionally as well as physically. Though Craig isn’t afraid of bashing in a few heads, none of them is an instant action hero, just shrugging off the fact that they used to have a peaceful life and now they’re bathing in blood. It’s a film about that scared guy that always die first in this kind of film, but with one of them having the calm sensibility to keep that from happening.
About halfway through the film I realized that the earlier clichés were intentional. They weren’t strictly clichés, but homages. Almost everything in the film is referencing other zombie films. From the zombie virus of Resident Evil, to a restaurant playing a central role like in Shawn of the Dead to smaller things, like a remark that it is now “28 days since the outbreak”, referencing 28 Days Later, slow moving scenes over abandoned roads, lined with dead cars like in Walking Dead, a shopping mall eerily similar to the one in Dawn of the Dead. They even managed to recreate a small scene from High School of the Dead. To list them all would be to write out the entire film.
On a technical level, the film is rather confusing. The shots are good, but audio quality is all over the place. In almost every outdoor scene you have this Birdemic-esque cutting, where it’s clear there was too much background noise to record the audio properly, so they just cut out the audio when nobody is speaking. But that just makes it more obvious that the cut is there. In some of the dialogue you can clearly hear traffic. In a particular scene, you can even hear a halfly-cut boat horn, louder than the voice. Just like Birdemic, you can also see people and traffic in the background, though they tried a bit harder to hide it in Plan Z. Due to the odd angles the camera use, you sometimes end up with a focus on that background traffic though.
I honestly don’t know which parts are intentionally made technically poor for authenticity of the film and which parts are unintentional due to budget constraint and the obvious lack of experience of the film crew.
All in all, it’s a passable film. Don’t expect anything you haven’t seen before though. It’s not exactly a run-of-the-mill zombie flick, but it’s no masterpiece either. You won’t miss anything if you skip it, but you won’t feel bad for having watched it either.