First things first, I really wanted to like this movie.
It’s English, its independent, it has zombies, it has a bearded anti-hero with hatchets, I mean what more could you ask for?
Unfortunately it turned out that there was quite a bit more I could have asked for including slightly better acting, better make up and a less pretentious and gloomy script. That’s not to say The Vanguard is a terrible film, just a flawed one.
Set in the not so distant future of 2015, a written intro explains that a global oil war blah blah corporation etcetera etcetera infection ho hum has lead to the devolution of the human race into flesh eating savages yawn yawn.
The unoriginal back story does not prepare you for the first act of the movie which introduces us to Max, played by talented unknown actor Ray Bullock Jnr.
Coming across like a zombie killing Ray Mears, we watch as Max tries to stay alive by hunting for food, building shelters, and mutilating the living dead or Biosyn’s as they are called here.
The creation of this shaggy bearded, chopper riding, axe-wielding protagonist is the main achievement of the movie.
Max appears as an instant iconic horror hero, complete with a cool look, smooth moves and a tortured voice over which he describes to us his years spent alone, fighting for survival.
With relatively little dialogue, a great soundtrack, eerie effects and arty shooting the first half hour is reminiscent of a classic 70’s horror. Part political, ecological and humanitarian allegory and part gory action.
Romero would be proud, as writer director Matthew Hope does a great job with a relatively small budget. Small touches such as the red tinged shots that make the English countryside look like its bathed in blood, and the uniform haircuts on the silent soldiers hunting down survivors show Hope’s individual cinematic eye.
Unfortunately the movie takes a turn for the worst when it abandons metaphysical meanderings and throws in clichéd characters, and an even more predictably pessimistic plot.
From here on the focus mistakenly moves away from Max and onto what Hope believes is the bigger picture both figuratively and literally. Sadly this just highlights the bad acting and the depressing over intellectual leanings of the story, making it look like 4 idiots arguing while out paintballing, rather than a horror movie.
As the film limps to its boring climax, characters that we didn’t care about die and secrets that we didn’t think were that important are revealed.
The bad make up is increasingly visible as Hope forgets the cardinal rule of low budget horror, which is ‘if the visual effects look cheap, keep them in the dark’.
Max is set free at the finish to reap some havoc on some unsuspecting soldiers, however even this doesn’t save the film from ending up far away from the interesting and original vision it started out as.
I wanted to like this film as I said. I really did. But unless you really feel like supporting British cinema or are a zombie completist, I’d stay away and hope that Max gets his own action filled spin-off sequel.
Additional film information: The Vanguard (2008)