Posted on January 23, 2017

The Rezort: The Conflicted Politics of Zombie Film

Dawn

NR                  93 mins.          Steve Barker               UK, Spain, Belgium                2015

The Rezort advertises itself as Jurassic World meets The Walking Dead and, while it has little in common with AMC’s blockbuster series, it is a lot like Jurassic World (and perhaps even more like Jurassic Park).

The film is set ten years after a virus has killed billions of the earth’s inhabitants and transformed them into zombies. As in World War Z (2013), the humans fought back and, finally, after a devastating war, conquered the undead. The last few remaining zombies are confined to one lone island, the expensive and luxurious Rezort, where survivors can pay to hunt them. The film opens with a group of survivors assembling at the Rezort for their shot at working out their anger and grief on the cause of humanity’s devastation. One of them, however, in a plot device that blends Jurassic Park (1993) and 28 Days Later (2002), turns out to be a member of “Living 2”—an “Undead Rights Activist,” and in downloading files from the Rezort’s system, she introduces a virus. When the group is on the island, the virus causes the safety systems to shut down. As the undead are freed from their enclosures, the group of vacationers have to battle them in earnest.

2. The Rezort, survivors, guns

The Rezort is moderately entertaining. While the writing and acting are lackluster at best, and the plot is entirely predictable, it does do something interesting with the zombie sub-genre. In fact, The Rezort distills a logical contradiction at the heart of many zombie narratives, making it glaringly apparent. It distills, more specifically, the contradictory progressive and regressive political impulses that typically animate zombie narratives.

On the one hand, The Rezort rather heavy-handedly emphasizes the idea that humans are the real monsters. In the very conception of the Rezort, where people come expressly to kill zombies, the inhumanity of humans is dramatically manifested.

3. The Rezort, zombies in sights

Right around the middle of the film, Melanie (Jessica De Gouw) and “Living 2” activist Sadie (Elen Rhys) have a contemplative exchange about the undead, including an unusually explicit reference to the Haitian history of the term “zombie.” Sadie tells Melanie that when the Haitians were transported as slaves, “their soul became zombi. Meaning ‘all free will gone.’ Unthinking, uncaring. Right now,” she asks, “does that sound more like them or us?” She then adds, “If we can treat the dead like meat, then who’s to say we won’t be next?”

This conversation goes right to the utopian heart of many progressive zombie narratives, which aim to use humans’ callous and unthinking brutality toward the dead (the ultimate “other”) in order to show the horrors of which humans are capable and that they, not the dead, are the real monsters. George Romero’s films—especially Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Land of the Dead (2005)—are invested in conveying this message.

The political edge is sharpened in The Rezort in that we find out the corporation that runs the Rezort is flying refugees of the long war against the zombies to the island, under guise of being a charity (Hope 4 U). There, the refugees are infected with the virus, making more zombies to feed the hunting industry. (This is a plot “twist” you can see a mile away in a pointed scene of refugees being flown . . .somewhere . . .and in the fact that no one seems to think about where the Rezort’s zombies come from in an era where the undead have all been supposedly wiped out.)

Melanie sums up the film’s progressive political message in the heavy-handed way that is the hallmark of this film: “We won a war but somehow we lost ourselves.”

So that’s all well and good. The Rezort makes resoundingly clear the progressive politics that lurk in many zombie narratives—among them Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead (1990), 28 Days Later, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead (2007), and (sometimes) AMC’s The Walking Dead.

4. The Rezort, leads

There’s an inherent catch to making that argument in a zombie narrative, however. In all but a few rare cases, the zombies are, in fact, mindless sacks of “meat,” to use Sadie’s word—and they are actually trying to kill the human survivors. (The British TV series In the Flesh [2013-14] is a wonderful exception to this rule, as is Andrew Currie’s Fido [2006], and M R Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts [2014] and the 2016 film based on the novel.) Characters can piously lament how humans become “monsters” in their brutal slaughter of zombies, but when the zombies are doing nothing but trying to kill and eat them, they have little choice but slaughter.

This stark contradiction is made crystal clear in The Rezort in that, immediately on the heels of Sadie and Melanie’s moment of contemplating humanity’s inhumanity, they see a horde of bloodthirsty zombies, let loose from their confines by the zombie rights activists, heading their way. Melanie ends their conversation about the inhumanity of humans by yelling, “Sadie, where’s your gun?” Much shooting of zombies in the head ensues. All of which suggests that when your life is on the line, niceties about humans’ inhumanity to one another (and to “Others”) fly out the door. And this is the almost inevitable message in zombie narratives, no matter how hard they may try to push the progressive agenda. In the end, what zombie narratives show us is the struggle to the death between zombies and humans; what is really at stake is simple survival.

The Rezort is interesting, then, for making so utterly clear the political contradiction that lies at the center of most zombie narratives.

Grade: C

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