If you’re in the mood for a mindlessly fun, comic book-inspired, zombie film that starts strong and doesn’t let up , “Steve Niles’ Remains” is a safe bet.
Zombie films are a popular sub genre of horror — effectively tapping into our collective fears about death, disease, and the destruction of civilization. Now more than ever, these types of films resonate deeply. Horror has always been a powerful and important outlet to help us confront our deep-seated dread and anxiety regarding the unknown. In the midst of a viral pandemic and its yet unknown long-term impact on our communities and social constructs, it’s little wonder why apocalyptic, ‘deadly infection’ films continue to be frequently served up — and why audiences continue to devour them.
Of course, the downside to this popularity is that these films start to feel like a dime a dozen.
It’s difficult for anything in this sub genre to really rise above the pack and differentiate itself with original ideas and execution. The significant rise of low budget productions in the sub genre also guarantees that many of these films are destined to disappoint or barely register with viewers. Thus, it’s always refreshing when an indie film about zombies manages to truly impress and entertain.
Remains (aka Steve Niles’ Remains) is a 2011 post-apocalyptic horror film about a small group of people in a Reno, Nevada casino who survive a nuclear disaster.
But that’s only the start of their struggles, as they quickly learn that the rest of humanity has been turned into flesh-eating zombies.
The film was directed by Colin Theys and produced by the Chiller Network. It’s based on a five-issue comic book limited series of the same name, written by Steve Niles and published by IDW Publishing in 2004.
We begin with a quick introduction to our cast of characters, which includes patrons and employees inside a small Vegas casino. We see a news broadcast preparing us for the launch of a new microwave device heralded as a miraculous solution for many societal problems. Unfortunately, things go terribly wrong, exposing millions to deadly radiation. This exposure creates a zombie horde, and the inevitable mayhem ensues.
The effectiveness of Remains is due in large part to a lean and cleverly written screenplay.
It’s one that skips a lengthy setup and delivers an instant zombie apocalypse. Unlike other low-budget films, we’re treated to the zombie attack after just a few minute of screen time, which helps to immediately engage the viewer and keeps the film moving along at a quick pace.
Writer Steve Niles admitted he wanted to portray a real-life casino experience in the film — a creative choice that really pays off. The kinetic energy of the casino atmosphere helps set the stage for the chaos to follow. Our adrenaline begins pumping even before the zombies arrive on the scene.
The first few minutes of the film features people happily playing live casino games. We hear happy screams and witness people lost in their own little world. The casino is a place where you lose the sense of time, focused intently on what’s in front of you while drowning out all other noise and mental distractions.
This is an effective metaphor for life during a zombie outbreak. When our survivors discover the world they once knew has vanished, everything that once mattered fades into the background. All that matters now is surviving and finding a way out of their terrifying predicament.
The focus of Remains is on the frenzied action and bloody kills, which should satiate horror fans.
However, this means that there’s not much in the way of deep character development or substantial story. That’s probably acceptable if you manage your expectations and have the right mindset going into this film. Translating a graphic novel series into a film is always a challenge, but Remains effortlessly makes the leap, maintaining a sense of fun and visual style that helps overcome any of the film’s technical shortcomings.
While the characters aren’t very sympathetic or well-developed, making it difficult to care much about their plight, the diverse cast is solid. The standout for me was Evalena Marie as Tori. Her character has one of the most interesting arcs, and she does a great job keeping the audience guessing as to her motivations, inner conflict, and the reliability of her moral compass.
The rest of the cast includes Miko Hughes as Jensen, Grant Bowler as Tom, Lance Reddick as Ramsey, and Tawnny Cypress as Cindy.
The cinematography of Remains gives it a convincing quality, though it lacks a strong cinematic flair. It has more of a soap opera style, giving it a “made for TV” feel. In fact, that feeling also carries over into the script and the performances. That’s not necessarily a fatal flaw.