For years now the film market has been flooded with movies with ‘vs’ in the title, and most of them have been pretty poor.
The promise of Alien vs Predator was left unrealised, even with two bites of the cherry, and the less said about Megashark vs. Giant Octopus the better. So, when the prospect of Cockneys vs. Zombies emerged, the entire world could be forgiven for expecting another cheap, cinematic atrocity.
As it happens, it’s probably the funniest film you’ll see all year.
The plot, as if the title didn’t give it away, involves hapless criminal brothers Terry and Andy (Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway) staging a bank robbery in order to help stump up the cash that will save their granddad’s retirement home from closing.
Officious bank clerks and evading the police become the least of their concerns, however, when legions of the undead begin rampaging through East London. From here they take it upon themselves to battle through the chaos to rescue their beloved granddad.
The film is directed with no little flair by first-timer Matthias Hoene, in a frenetic, lively style that bears more than a passing debt to Guy Ritchie’s classic London movies Snatch and Lock Stock…. Employing split-screens, quick edits and a lively soundtrack, Hoene keeps things rattling along at an exciting pace, and ensures that – however familiar you may be with the tropes of the genre – this particular stand-off against the zombie horde always maintains a sense of fun.
And, boy, is it funny!
The script (partly written by Severance scribe James Moran) is a riot. There’s nothing terribly sophisticated here in the way of humour, but that doesn’t mean it’s not clever, and the cast – both the young and old – deliver their lines with such gusto that they make what could be crass and obvious into something charming and endearing.
The brothers and their bickering group of thieves (including former Eastender Michelle Ryan, in her best post-Albert Square role to date) are a joy, and the group of besieged old folks, led by reliable go-to-geezer Alan Ford, make for a refreshingly different take on the zombie-apocalypse.
The script takes great pleasure in sending up its own genre. “Is that as fast as they go?” remarks one character, when faced with the slow, ambling zombies that have fallen out of favour in recent years, while we’re also treated to perhaps the funniest zombie chase in history, courtesy of a very game Richard Briers.
There are a few fantastic, genuinely laugh-out-loud sequences, and the expected sending up of cockneys (rhyming slang comes in for some inevitable stick, as do London football rivalries – both hilariously so) but the banter and chemistry between our heroes helps keep the film grounded.
Terry and Andy, unlike so many before them in horror films and B-movies, are given actual characters, and despite the silly nature of it all, you do care about them and their goals. Much of this is down to the warm, spirited performances of Hardiker and Treadaway, almost to the extent that – had the zombies never shown up – you’d be quite happy just watching a film about these haplessly endearing cockney brothers-in-crime.
What Cockneys vs Zombies gets right, that so many others before it got wrong, is the script.
Eight Legged Freaks pitched itself as a comedy featuring giant spiders. Well, it had the spiders, but lacked the laughs. Similarly Slither, another comedy creature feature that couldn’t deliver on the comedy. The greats of the sub-genre – Tremors, Attack the Block – are the ones that provide the thrills and scares along with the characters and the laughs in equal measure, and CvZ pulls off this curiously elusive feat with aplomb.
As if that wasn’t enough, the film even manages to make a few serious, Shaun Of The Dead-like points about society, aiming subtle digs at the way we as a nation treat our elderly, who are so often derogatorily referred to themselves as ‘the walking dead’.
If you’re looking for high-art, elegant dialogue and nuanced humour, you should probably look elsewhere. But if you’re a fan of B-movie thrills, people telling zombies to fuck off and OAPs brandishing automatic weapons, then Cockneys vs Zombies will not disappoint.
It’s the smartest silliness you’ll see all year.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 31st August 2012 by Optimum Releasing.