The Reeler


June 14, 2007


Mismatched zombie flick inadvertently introduces the red herring to the genre

No crowd-pleasing component of low-art aesthetics has been better explored for all its metaphorical potential than that of zombies. As vessels of cannibalistic insanity, the undead offer a treasure trove of possibilities for representations of real world ills -- capitalism, consumerism, imperialism, STDs, you name it. Yet the sole impressive gimmick of Fido, Andrew Currie’s high-concept zombie movie, comes with its clever opening newsreel, which imagines the fantastical setting as Dawn of the Dead directed by Douglas Sirk. Clever indeed, but an end, not a means; it’s tough not to imagine how much better the results could have been if Currie had taken the material to the next level and given Fido a purpose beyond homage-heavy representations of multiple issues. Witty it may be, but the metaphor dies before the first act and never gets resurrected.

Fake grainy footage which plays like Ed Wood’s version of the “News on the March” sequence from Citizen Kane, reveals the zombies’ flimsy raison d’être: Space stuff hit the planet and caused the dead to rise. Survivors figured out their foes’ Achilles heel (shoot the head to kill the ghoul, of course), leading to their victory in the zombie war. Rather than decimating the enemy, however, mankind placated it, applying mechanized collars to the remaining undead that rendered them docile and utterly subservient.

Cut to the peaceful town of Willard, a quiet suburban neighborhood of Cold War mannerisms with idyllic Norman Rockwell sparkle. Sure, zombies troll the streets and lurk within the personal enclosures of each house on the block, but with their collars firmly in place, the formerly deranged beings now perform tasks ranging from the culinary to the sexual (depending on the owner’s particular fancy). Curious 11-year-old Tommy (K’Sun Ray) feels skeptical about the abject treatment of zombies that reduces them to possessions rather than living creatures; the sentiment gets emboldened when his desperate housemother (Carrie Ann-Moss) purchases a zombie butler named Fido (Scottish comedian Billy Connelly, here reduced to a grunting hunk of chalky make-up).

Annoying his zombie-fearing dad (Dylan Baker) and discriminatory neighbors, Tommy shuns conventional classroom friendships in favor of spending time with the family’s morbid addition. Naturally, his tolerance stands in stark contrast to the single-minded hatred of the adult world surrounding him. Bingo! Classicism metaphor alert!

But Fido doesn’t stop there. Zombie ownership gets regulated by the shadowy Zomcom organization, a strange conglomerate that operates under the dictatorial bidding of homeland security overlord Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czemy). He becomes a fairly menacing presence once Timmy accidentally lets Fido run astray to cause some gory mayhem. Enticing as it sounds, Currie unfolds these scenarios with practically no sense of irony -- or rather, the conceptual irony is dampened by earnest characters and a simple, blithe tone, which hardly accommodates the various ideas the plot attempts to engage at once.

The worse casualty of this unfortunate mismatch is the essential ingredient that makes zombie cinema so impressionable: Fear. Nary a moment of Fido raises any chills, as Currie gets lost in visual pastiche (drawing from Sirk’s colorful 1960s melodramas) and tells the story through literal-minded dialogue and boring conflict. At one point, Tommy winds up the victim of school bullies, leaving Fido to retrieve his mother and save the day. And quite suddenly, we’re in Lassie territory -- an insult to the freakish potential that zombies yield.

Certainly, Currie’s effort comes as a major kick in the groin to aficionados of George Romero and Lucio Fulci, two directors who have managed to milk the zombie genre's potential to carry major visceral impact in their various productions. It’s not that Fido doesn’t raise admirable concerns for relevant issues like racism and corporate greed, but in misusing its subject matter, the movie inadvertently brings something new (and unwelcome) to the genre: Zombies as a red herring.

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Comments (1)

I couldn't disagree more with this review. FIDO is a complete blast that captures the zombie sub-genre, cult film, B-monster movie of the 50's all done with macabre glee and utter satisfaction for the viewer. Whether your a fan of zombie films, horror films, B-movies or not, FIDO is certainly a great time at the movies.

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