Capsule Review: ‘Cockneys vs Zombies’

Directed by Matthias Hoene
Written by Matthias Hoene, James Moran, & Lucas Roche
Starring Rasmus Hardiker, Harry Treadaway, Alan Ford, Michelle Ryan, Ashley Bashy Thomas, Honor Blackman

Matthias Hoene’s blood spattered horror-comedy ‘Cockneys vs. Zombies’ may be light as a feather, but it elicits laughs by reveling in our widespread fascination with zombies and zombie tropes. And there are undeniable joys in watching Cockneys with thick accents and outsized personalities shoot zombies to pieces with big guns.

The film centers in part around a group of bumbling bank-robbers from London’s East End, the Cockney capital of the world. They are led by brothers Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway), who try to rob a bank to save their grandfather’s retirement home from foreclosure.

Aside from a tossed-off scene showing the initial zombie outbreak, the first act centers around the robbery. The heist functions mostly as a means to get lots of guns into the hands of our protagonists, and feels overlong. And the characters — complete with brothers stealing for a good cause, their sexy, weapons-proficient cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan), and their loose-cannon partner Mental Mickey (Ashley Bashy Thomas), feel more stale here than they do later in the film.

Things change once we get to the zombie splattering. The film’s greatest achievement is the sense of familiarity the characters seem to have with the whole zombie apocalypse scenario. For one thing, they use the word “zombies” – not, say, “walkers” a la AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’, or “corpses,” as in Jonathan Levine’s ‘Warm Bodies.’  The smarter characters even know how to kill the zombies right off the bat. When asked how she knows that only head injuries can terminate the undead, one character responds, “Everyone knows that.” The film’s wisest comedy comes from its winking awareness of how zombie tropes have suffused pop culture.  “Cockneys vs. Zombies” revels in its own lateness to the game.

Also fending off zombies are the old folks at the home, including Terry and Andy’s grandfather, Ray (Alan Ford). As an intimidating septuagenarian badass with a heart of gold, Ford steals the film. Ray can both wield a machine gun and warmly praise his grandchildren. With his gruff demeanor and his die-hard attachment to family and community, he is Cockney to the core.

Most zombie movies make dark statements about human nature. The shopping mall-roaming zombies of Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ represent our mindless consumerism. The zombies of ‘The Walking Dead’ turn people against each other in a bid for survival, exposing our worst Darwinian instincts. The shambling zombies of Edgar Wright’s ‘Shaun of the Dead’ represent the mechanical drone of working class life. But there is not a hint of cynicism in “Cockneys vs. Zombies.” Instead, Hoene taps the well-trodden genre to serve up a tonally upbeat story of a community banding together. The resulting film is a bit weightless, but nonetheless fresh and fun.

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David Teich

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