Since the undead first shuffled onto our screens, zombie films have typically tackled subjects much heavier than bloated corpses. From initial parallels of slave labour to a social commentary on consumerism; what on the surface can appear to be a simple splatter-fest of blood and gore, is often much more.
Brain Freeze from director Julien Knafo is no different, however this French Canadian feature takes a slightly more eco-centred approach to the familiar sub genre.
Set on the affluent ‘Peacock Island’ off of mainland Quebec, Brain Freeze immediately underlines the class divide between the wealthy inhabitants and visitors, and the population of working class individuals catering to their ridiculous whims and needs to make ends meet.
In order to accommodate the demands of its elite clientele, the grass on an upmarket golf club is chemically treated to prevent the snow from settling and impeding the visitors’ game. It becomes apparent that little consideration has been given to the impact of their choices and as the feature develops, Brain Freeze shows itself to be a quirky and thought provoking look at the consequences of reckless affluence on the world around us.
The main protagonists lie at complete opposite ends of the spectrum in almost every way. Teenage Andre (portrayed by Iani Bédard) lives with his workaholic mother and baby sister Annie in a humungous, yet hauntingly minimalistic, home (with a lot of Kale. A LOT of Kale). He largely ignores the presence of others – be it his family or the kindly nanny Camilla, instead choosing to spend his time engrossed on a world within his phone.
Security guard Dan (Roy Dupuis) on the other hand lives an unhappily solitary existence – trying to build a relationship with his daughter and spending his time in his modest home honing his skill in survivalist techniques.
As the end of all they once knew approaches, the characters are thrust together – forced to work closely to navigate their new surroundings and share their own methods of survival to overcome.
For such a saturated sub-genre, I was happily surprised to find that Brain Freeze didn’t feel like it constantly was rolling out the same cliche tropes. It has a lot going for it and the strength of the cast is a definite plus. Even baby Annie is incredibly expressive, and her funny little gurgles seem to appropriately convey a lot.
The dialogue is particularly witty with some genuinely great one liners that got a good laugh from the audience. They say never work with children or animals. Unless, of course, you’re working on a zombie flick, in which case you need both to precariously dangle before the audience for the “Will they? Won’t they?” moment. From the vulnerable to the vapid; rich couple of Marcel (Louis-Georges Girard) and Maud (Mahée Patement – who incidentally looks distractingly like a young Barbra Streisand) provide enough light relief without feeling over the top.
Brain Freeze elevates its comedic moments through utilising the score to bring a cheerfully light note to some of the more bizarre scenes.
Visually, it is simplistic – but doesn’t underwhelm . Where we’re used to excessive gore and bloodshot eyes – the infected of Brain Freeze are going green, in more ways than one. A commentary on our need for immediate convenience and the impact this has on the planet and nature, with the grim realisation that everyone is expendable. A keen eye will clock the link between government and media that culminates in a dark realisation that at the end of the day, all we have is each other.
Even if you’re not interested in the moral critiques underlying the feature and are just looking for a good, fun zombie film, you won’t be disappointed. With some interesting cinematography and genuinely funny moments, Brain Freeze managed the difficult feat of bringing some sense of originality to something we horror fans know inside out.