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Colin (Marc Price, 2008, 97 min.)

Struggling filmmaker manages to create a wildly popular, word-of-mouth triumph using only his ingenuity, his friends’ willingness to help for nothing, and about $75 for food and tea. It’s a great story, even if it’s mostly fiction—even if we factor in the in-kind donations, you also have to consider tape cost, etc. But that doesn’t really matter: that’s just the hook to get you in the door. The real question is whether the film manages to be any good, either because of or in spite of its micro-budget. The answer is, sort of.

It certainly has an interesting premise, a zombie’s-eye view of becoming and being a zombie… mostly. We meet Colin (Alastair Kirton) as he enters an apartment, looking for a friend who quickly appears, zombified, and tries to eat our hero. After a thrilling closed-space battle in the kitchen, Colin wins, but then we realize that he’s been bitten. It’s zombie time for Colin, and we accompany him on his shambolic way (once he manages to escape the house) as he tries to make it in the big, cruel, competitive zombie world.

The film works best when it flirts with comedy: Colin’s inability to work a door handle, his clumsiness, his basic suckiness at feeding off fleet-footed humans, and the idea of a couple of chavs robbing zombies for their tennis shoes. It’s acceptable when it’s providing gruesome gut-munching setpieces—leftover makeup and improvised effects, according to the press kit. But too much of the film is occupied by tiresome lurching and moaning, as we follow Colin on his perambulations. A plot inserts itself when Colin is captured by a girl who turns out to be his sister (Daisy Aitkens); she’s determined to reawaken her beloved brother’s memory, or at least his conscience, but we know that’s impossible (or is it?), and other films and books (the superb comic series The Walking Dead, for example) have dealt with familial grief to better effect.

There are unnecessary subplots that do little but pad the running time and the body count, such as an ill-fated attempt by some random strangers to make a documentary about the undead (you can imagine how that turns out) and a completely inexplicable setpiece that apparently details a sadistic guy who traps girls in his basement, blinds them, and then lets the zombies get at them (although I might have the order mixed up). These sequences only serve to raise more questions than they answer, such as “why do we care about these people, as our narrator-zombie Colin is nowhere to be found?” and “Would it have killed the filmmakers to use some freaking lights?”

This is not a slam on the field of ultra-low-budget filmmaking, as I’m a dabbler in that myself. Instead, it’s a slam on cinematic laziness: as I’ve said elsewhere, just because you don’t have to use lights doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, and just because you can do everything handheld doesn’t mean you should. The former, I suppose, is excused a bit by the premise: we’re seeing things basically from Colin’s point of view, even if it’s not strictly second-person, and if the picture is muddy, washed out, and generally indecipherable, well, that’s a zombie for you. Still, come on: plug in a lamp. The latter, however, is inexcusable: much better to turn on the stabilizer and achieve somewhat smoother movements, because these zombies aren’t exactly moving fast. I think the distracting shaky-cam effects have more to do with other recent zombie movies than with the needs of the story.

The entire project feels like a decent short film blown up to feature length. At one point it comes to an absolutely perfect ending, one that would go a long way toward excusing some of the weaknesses early on—and then it continues for at least fifteen more minutes. Yes, it answers some questions, and it develops one of the plot points raised earlier, but it deprives the film of a truly memorable ending, and of a place in the zombie-movie canon. A place, that is, that has nothing to do with how much it ostensibly cost to make.