Sunday, November 27, 2011

Romeo & Juliet vs. The Living Dead and Romancing the Bard: A Movie Review

Director: Ryan Denmark.

Writers: Ryan Denmark, Jason Witter, and William Shakespeare (original play).

Cast: Hannah Kauffmann, Jason Witter, Mark Chavez, Kate Schroeder, Reuben Finkelstein, and Kevin R Elder.

What strangeness doth producer/writer Jason Witter and director Ryan Denmark bring? And how do they reinterpret a classic play for a zombie generation? In what gets created, Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead defies every expectation for a zombie film that aspires to be very literary. These two filmmakers have made a very unique product that can easily rank up there with author Seth Grahame-Smith’s "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." Their passion for this bard's work is easily apparent, but their love for the classic zombie film is just as equally visible.

The team behind this movie put together an amazing product that will satisfy certain types of audiences. For those looking for spectacular makeup effects, that will not be found here. What is presented is very basic, and it gets the job done in a theatrical sense. To really go all out would only detract from this film. For those looking for gore, there is nothing over-the-top or even remotely horrific. Most of the scenes of a zombie feasting are more suggestive than visceral.

At least the blood is delivered in troves. But for those who love a good adaptation of a classic, this movie certainly delivers. Watching this film is more about satisfying a curiousity of how the bard’s work has been interpreted if one of the families happened to be a race of zombies. And the result is quite comedic.

But there is more to this movie than the love the two leading characters have. There is more to Romeo (Jason Witter) than what is portrayed. He seems intelligent, but when he is smitten, there is a lost puppy appeal to this zombie character. That’s just one great twist to this tale, and Witter does a great job with bringing out Romeo’s comic side with no dialogue at all. Juliet (Hannah Kauffmann) comes through as a very smitten hopeless romantic. As the intro shows, she has many courters.

But when the rest of the family gets involved, the range of characters portrayed suggest that most of the performers came from theatrical roots. They may very well be from the same acting troupe or college drama club, and the movie may be a trial of how they can fare on screen compared to a stage. In this film’s case, it is a test that needs to be explored some more. The transition is very good to show the commitment these people have to create this product.

With this film and much like the play, the themes of death and violence are explored. There is tragedy in every corner, as members and friends of the Capulet family are slowly picked off. The inevitable gets overshadowed with the "South Park" style humour that is spiced within this film. All the phallic references and crude sexual innuendos make this movie seem like a product of a juvenile mind, but that is far from what the producers may have intended.

This zombie comedy romance actually stays very close to Shakespeare’s work. When Abraham in the play challenges Sampson to bite his thumb at thee, he does so literally. These little moments make for a great reinterpretation of the Bard’s text, and those are moments worth more than the cruder aspects of this film’s production.

The challenge of whether or not the living can love the dead has been explored in previous zombie comedies, but this latest entry is the one that stands a better chance of achieving cult status than My Boyfriend's Back or Boy Eats Girl.

Witter and Denmark do a great job in bringing as much of what they understand about Shakespeare's tale into the film. They even bring as much of the Evil Dead tradition into the bloodbath. A zombie film cannot be complete without the traditional equipment of warfare: the bat, rat and chainsaw. They also provide a great twist upon Shakespeare's play that really has to be seen to be believed. With the message these young producers deliver in both the prologue and epilogue, they certainly understand what Romeo and Juliet is all about, and that alone is a five star act.

Overall: 8 out of 10.

Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead’s Official Facebook Page:

The Film's Facebook Page

*available on VOD, Netflix and iTunes US.

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