Trailer: Netflix: Army of the Dead

I’m a big fan of Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead (1978). Snyder’s version is less of a social commentary than Romero’s but James Gunn’s screenplay has a punchy irony that adds to the gory thrills. I really hope the insanity in the trailer for Army delivers. It has the feel the third act from Snyder’s Dawn. That feeling of facing insurmountable odds. There is one thing from the trailer that bothers me. I don’t know about “smart” zombies. Just the idea of a strategising zombie seems to contradict the nature of being undead. I hope Snyder doesn’t give the zombies too much agency. Zombies are mindless agents of instinct, flesh eating monster, not wild animals. Truth is it really doesn’t matter what they are, I’m still going to watch the movie regardless.

Edge of Extinction

I’ve always had an obsession with films set post apocalypse. They’re stories that process our anxieties, and we have a lot to be worried about these days. Edge of Extinction fits into our concerns about the decline of morality. What would you do to survive if the rules of civilisation were swept away? Years after the nuclear devastation of World War Three, people survive by scavenging on the remains of the old world, and preying on other survivors. When traumatised loner Luke Hobson, The Boy, crosses paths with Georgie Smibert, The Girl, he is dragged from his isolated existence, forced to confront dangerous enemies, and find his morality in a broken world. It’s a kill or be killed existence, where threats of raping and pillaging and murdering are ever present, and if some black clad psychopaths get hold of you, getting eaten. The premise is compelling, cannibalism is the ultimate taboo, and writer director Andrew Gilbert asks some interesting questions. The problem is he only partly answers them, in a screenplay that’s probably fifty pages too long. (Spoiler alert) He could’ve excised the rape and torture subplot, it’s misogynistic and gratuitous, concentrated on the horrors of cannibalism, without losing anything from the story. Take a look at the brilliantly terse The Day (2011). Written by Luke Passmore, and directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where a small group battles to survive an attack from a group of cannibals. It deals with the same issues but has a more concise execution, and is better for it. Trimming back the plot for Edge of Extinction might’ve also helped reign in some performances that are allowed to run away with themselves. It’s an early effort from a writer director that obviously has talent. I just wish he’d been brutal enough to lop off a couple of the plots limbs? Overall I’d say it’s not all good, but neither is it all bad.

A thought on dragons

Brexit has pissed napalm on the economy of the United Kingdom. The only creatures that will thrive on what’s left are dragons.

Reign of Fire (2002) is a high concept science fiction film staring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic Britain ravaged by fire spitting dragons. What does that have to do with Brexit? Apart from the obvious metaphors about fire and destruction, the dragons in Reign of Fire are unique. They’re not the dragons from Game of Thrones (2011–2019). Giant reptiles wreaking havoc on the enemies of Daenerys Targaryen. They’re not the slothful Smaug from The Hobbit (2013). Greedily guarding his cavernous lair of treasure. The dragons in Reign of Fire eat ash. They burn everything so they can feed. These dragons emerge from their ancient slumber, burning indiscriminately and feeding ravenously on the world. And they’re no different to the dragons feeding on the British economy.

On March 12 Reuters reported the Office for National Statistics announcement that “British goods exports to the EU… slumped by 40.7% in January compared to December”.

Another March 12 headline on the Politics Home website led with a claim “Fish Exports To The EU Collapsed By 83% In January According To “Grim” Post-Brexit Figures”.

This, and similar figures across the economy, are what Umair Haque, in his article How Britain is Destroying Itself, calls a sudden stop. “It’d be better to call it a “heart attack,” because it means an economy seizes up and suddenly stops functioning.”

If the British economy were an eighteen wheel tanker of petrol driving along the M1, Brexit is the driver having a heart attack doing sixty miles per hour. He clutches his chest, passes out, and ploughs full speed into a vat of concentrated orange juice. Fire sticks to everything and burns intensely.

When the fires are out the speculators, hedgefunds, pirates, and sovereign individual start feeding like dragons on the ash of the British economy.

One day we might get lucky and meet a heroic fighter willing to sacrifice everything to defeat these monsters. A young Turk that can vanquish the vicious dinosaurs of British imperialism. A brawler with the gumption it takes to slaughter the dragons feeding on our destruction.

A thought on little England

The landscape of a post-Brexit United Kingdom is looking increasingly fractured. If we’re not carful Boris Johnson will turn the United Kingdom into little England.

Scotland is pushing hard for another independence referendum. If it goes ahead, it’s likely Scotland will leave the United Kingdom to pursue a future within the European Union.

If Scotland goes, Wales is sure to want the same kind of autonomy.

Then we have the Byzantine complexities of a post-Brexit Northern Ireland to consider. Who knows how that will all play out? At the moment Loyalists are angry about the backstop sea border. The backstop is a problem because it makes Northern Ireland different to the rest of the United Kingdom. To a community that has built its identity around loyalty to the crown, that difference is heresy. It opens up the possibility that Northern Ireland is separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. That difference is a lever Republicans could use to unite Ireland.

Peace in the region, for the last thirty years, has relied on the Good Friday Agreement. Post-Brexit that agreement is unworkable. To be clear, the agreement only works if there is free movement between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The kind of free movement only possible by being part of the European Union. A land border is unacceptable to Republicans. The sea border is unacceptable to Loyalists. The Good Friday Agreement allowed both Republicans and Loyalists to function while maintaining their separate identities. Without it old conflicts reappear.

The way out of this is more complicated than anyone in Johnson’s government has the intellectual or political power for. One possibility is that Johnson abandons Loyalists and Northern Ireland altogether. Unsupported by the English, Northern Ireland will inevitably unite with Ireland. This move will allow Johnson to make the probable Loyalist uprising a problem for Irish and not English governments. Another possibility has Northern Ireland follow Scotland’s example, pursue independence, joining the European Union as a sovereign nation. It’s possible a newly independent Northern Ireland could negotiate a version of the Good Friday Agreement to forge peace. I don’t think this will happen. Loyalist are as wedded to the crown, as Republicans are to a united Ireland. Speculation aside one thing is for certain, this issue is not going away.

Into the historic divisions that are tearing at the United Kingdom, England is now facing its own set of fractures.

The Northern Independence Party is a new political entity demanding independence for the North of England. Campaigning under the banner “We’re not English, we are Northumbrian” they want to reinstate ancient borders that stretch north from the Humber river, up to Scotland. Who knows if they’ll make gains politically, but the idea is there. The north south divide has been given a border, and that feeling, the one that thinks the south has left the north to rot, has been given a voice.

If this sentiment gets traction, and an independent North becomes a possibility, it won’t be long before Cornish nationalism is seeking to escape from English rule.

Then where will England be, let alone the United Kingdom? One thing is for certain, Johnson and the Conservatives will use these cries for independence as a crisis. One that lets them calve up England as if they were the ancient Kings of Wessex or Mercia. England will be transformed into a series of charter cities. Regions that will claim to be hubs of enterprise and entrepreneurship. When in fact they will be islands of tax avoidance, shell companies, and post office boxes that hide wealth. For the ninety-nine point nine per cent this will mean a bad, much poorer, little England.

A thought on pyramids

I read today that workers around the world have lost a collective $3.7 trillion during the pandemic. During this same period the billionaires of the world have increased their wealth by a staggering $3.9 trillion.

Dan Price, CEO of of the online credit card processing company Gravity Payments, called it “the biggest one-year wealth transfer in history”. In the very simplest terms this is like every worker in the world emptying their pockets into the laps of their bosses. How is any of this even possible?

I think it’s because we’re living in one massive pyramid scheme. Traditional pyramid schemes make money by recruiting members with a promise of payments for enrolling other members into the scheme. What the transfer of $3.9 trillion so eloquently illustrates, and events around the world demonstrate, is that this system is completely unsustainable business model.

Money cannot continue to be extracted in this way. At some point this vast pyramid will collapse. You cannot move such vast sums of money away from the majority, where it’s the difference between life and death, into the hands of the very few, and it not have consequences.

At some point, those paying tribute will have nothing to give. Those desperate souls, with nothing to lose, will realise the cause of their suffering, and seek to balance the scale.

A thought on flags

Pride in flags doesn’t feed hungry kids, or pay the bills, or fund the NHS.

Image: Vivienne Westwood

The Today new guidance was issued by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport department about flags. No urgency about housing, or jobs, or COVID deaths, or corruption, or any of the thousand other things that are important at the moment. Today the Tories are insisting the Union flag be flown on all government buildings, every day. “Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden described the flag as “a proud reminder of our history and the ties that bind us”.” For me flags represent death. All flags are soaked in the blood of all those lives cut short defending the country it represents. Now they’re being used by the Tories as a substitute for real policies that bind communities. Pride in flags doesn’t feed hungry kids, or pay the bills, or fund the NHS. The irony is, the ministers ordering compulsory flag waving, wouldn’t actually defend that flag. They wouldn’t die for it. They’re cowards. And if you won’t die for it, your proclamations are just jingoistic rhetoric.

A thought on voting

Vote as if you have a gun pointed at someone’s head.

I was recently made aware of the reasons some people voted Tory in the 2019 general election. They voted tactically to send a message to Labour; they weren’t happy with the “radicle” agenda of Jeremy Corbyn. I’ve never voted tactically and I never will. I vote my conscience. Voting tactically in 2019 has backfired in the most vicious way possible. We now have 126 thousand deaths from COVID. A no deal “deal” exiting the European Union that’s tanking the economy, and abandoning the Good Friday Agreement; it’s trashed thirty years of peace in Northern Ireland. We have a government intent on making protesting illegal, while at the same time handing lucrative PPE contracts to friends and donors to the Conservative Party. At best they’re hypocritical, at worst corrupt. My approach to voting is simple. Vote as if you have a gun pointed at someone’s head. Are you willing to pull that policy trigger? Tory policies kill. Ten years of austerity have proven that. The only message anyone sends by voting Tory is you agree with Tory policies. And voting Tory tells me “I’m happy to kill”.

A thought on protesting

No one who has ever confronted the police at a demonstration will ever look at them with respect again. You will never be able to shake the experience of their thuggish brutality. Inevitably blame for violence is laid at the the feet of protestors. As if the police are a neutral entity. They’re not. They assert the will of the state. The state, when it meets protestors on the street, does not represent the interests of the people.

The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

The Dark and the Wicked is the kind of film that makes you turn on all of the light before you go to bed. It makes you want to fill the shadows, and flinch at every creaking sound your house makes. Bryan Bertino, the man behind the underrated Strangers (2008), does a sterling job directing his own very taut screenplay. Siblings return to the family farm to see their dying father. The bleak surroundings and a mother struggling to cope, are just the start of their problems. The tension builds from the opening scene. That feeling of dread hangs onto you like an anchor, a weight tied to your ankle pulling you to the bottom of a lake. In many ways this film reminded me of Robert Eggers’s debut feature The Witch (2015). Both use the same gut wrenching soundscape that reaches inside, and send a shiver down your spine. The Dark and the Wicked is creepy and threatening and revels in the kind of jump scares Val Lewton would be proud of. Watch this with the lights off, and someone of a nervous disposition, for the most satisfying experience.

Tribes of Europa (2021– )

Philip Koch was inspired to create Tribes of Europa (2021-) by the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016. I see no evidence that the European Union is at risk from the United Kingdom’s decision. Equally it’s not hard to imagine a post-apocalyptic future in which fudal tribes fight over scares resources. In this world an unknown cataclysm has flung the world back into the dark ages. As is usual in these things some vestiges of the old world still exist. There are a few cars and some military trucks, the odd electric light, electronic key cards, recorded television programmes, high velocity weapons, forges able to manufacture razor sharp blades, and electricity enough to play trance music. Actually this apocalypse is less like the dark ages and more like the late seventies. That time before computers, mobile phones, or the internet. I suppose for some, life without social media is an apocalypse. The plot kicks off when the plane of a technologically capable tribe, the Atlantians, crashes near the village of the peaceful Origine tribe. Desperate to get control the Atlantian’s technology, an innocuous looking cube, the larger more aggressive Crows attack the Origine camp, killing or capturing most of the tribe. The Crows look like gothic cyberpunks, if the punks appropriated the look of some indigenous North American clan. Dressed in black, with topknots, and replicant eye makeup, they wouldn’t be out of place in the wastelands of Mad Max. From this encounter three siblings from the Origines tribe are forced to confront the terrors of this new world order. They’re innocents in a world of duplicitous aggression, destined to become idealists corrupted by necessity. Overall I like the idea but the execution feels over designed, and in many ways the plot’s too narrow. They tug at Europe’s troubled history, without really explaining the collapse of Europe, or the formation of the tribes. They’re complex cultures that would’ve taken centuries to define themselves in these specific terms. Not the fifty or so years since the collapse of information technology. Perhaps that’s why the six episodes leaves you wanting more, but it’s probably because the whole thing is two acts, and four episodes short. Hopefully series two will fill out the plot, and provide answers where there are now gaping holes.