Code Red – Film Review

“Real” horror genre films — the schlocky, B-grade zombie/monster/gore-fests that grace the pages of horror magazines and blogs — don’t receive the sort of ubiquitous, nationwide criticism that a show like The Walking Dead does. That series has defined horror and zombie apocalypse discussions around the watercooler, and the results have been resoundingly backwards.

Don’t get me wrong, I often have a love/hate relationship with that show as much as anyone, but it often comes from poor plotting or characterization, not a ratio of gore-to-chit-chat. I hear the same complaint week-in and week-out from at least one fan of the show: “That episode was boring, it needed more zombies.”

For those people, I may now offer them a little zombie film by the name of Code Red. Not that Code Red is alone in its fine display of zombies being obliterated and eating everything in sight, but it is a perfect example of getting what you asked for. You want more zombies and more killing? Here it is, at the expense of everything else.

It’s not that Code Red is a terrible film, devoid of anything short of guts and gore. There’s actually an involved story and some developed characters in there, but it’s all so boilerplate that it’s difficult to get invested. And that’s the thing — Walking Dead viewers don’t consider investment; they don’t think about what the “boring” downtime is actually building up towards. They need to watch more films like Code Red so they can fully appreciate what shows like The Walking Dead set out to do.

Code Red tells the story of a biological weapon developed in WWII, released during the battle of Stalingrad, and covered up when the city was burned to the ground. That biological weapon, it turns out, still exists today, so an American special agent is sent in the investigate. In an attempt to maintain the cover-up, a Bulgarian General destroys the facility housing the weapon and ends up releasing the zombie outbreak instead. From there it’s a desperate attempt to escape before the city is destroyed and the cover-up happens all over again.

The most irritating thing about Code Red is the assumptions it seems to make. For one, that we need American characters in order to sympathize with them. John, the American special agent, tries to save Anna, an American doctor at the site of the infestation, and her American daughter. They’re all unwelcome in the country, and the bad guys are almost entirely Eastern European sleazy stereotypes. There’s an obvious formula at work here, and honestly, they would have had a lot more luck getting me to sympathize with a mother/daughter pair that wasn’t designed in a lab to appeal to my specific ‘merican sensibilities. Can we really count that as a legitimate attempt to get the audience to care about the protagonists of the story?

So I could care less about the heroes, but as long as there’s some good blood and guts it doesn’t matter much, right? Well, the thing is that you can only watch people get eaten by zombies or watch zombies get gunned down by soldiers so many times in life. I’ve hit my apex long ago, and while I can still appreciate a creative, morally empty slasher film, the zombie genre really shines exactly when the focus is on human morality.

Code Red is a serviceable zombie film. It isn’t oppressively boring, but I wouldn’t say it’s particularly engaging either. The introductory premise is cool for the WWII aesthetic, and the zombie effects are surprisingly decent, but there isn’t much to offer beyond that. However, if you ever complained about a Walking Dead episode being short on zombie kills, I kindly offer this film as a healing salve for your zombie-starved wounds.

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