Original Release Date: May 2010 (non-retail)
Run time: 75 minutes
In my never-ending attempts at connecting with and chatting up zombie fans, I get asked the same question over and over and over: “have you seen EVERY zombie movie ever made?” Unlike a lot of other questions I’m asked that I actually have to take the time to carefully craft a response to, the answer to this query is immediately and adamantly given: no way, no how, sweet Zombie Jesus, no!
Not only are there so many zombie movies out there, from the big-budget Hollywood releases down to the scrape-it-together, cast-and-crew-all-volunteered independent flicks, there are also new stories being produced all the time. It is, quite simply, impossible for anyone to claim that they’ve seen every zombie movie, because anyone possessing anything short of a god-like omniscience would have no way of even knowing about all the different projects that exist out there.
Fortunately for me as a reviewer, every so often a zombie movie will serendipitously fall into my lap – a film I had no idea existed, and probably never would have known about had someone not reached out and told me about it. I’m proudly here today to share with you one of those films: Project 9.
Project 9, while having a similar-sounding title but in no way being related to the “classic” Plan 9 from Outer Space, is a unique and ambitious project: it’s cast and crew were entirely comprised of students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), specifically The School of Film and Animation, along with some select local volunteers. Created from start to finish in less than a year by a team of over 50 RIT students, the only involvement from school staff (professors and the like) was in an advisory capacity only, making this film truly a “learning experience.” Written, produced, and co-directed by Dan Sullivan, the film is broken into nine different segments, each part telling a different portion of the tale from start to finish. Within each segment, a different cast and crew worked to create their part of the story; with nine different directors, nine different editors, seven different cinematographers, and tons of actors and miscellaneous crew, Project 9 takes the meaning of “collaborative film” to a whole new level.
Since Project 9 is such a unique project, I’m going to do things a little out-of-order with this review; I’m going to share some quick thoughts in the Score section on the film as one whole, cohesive unit, and them I’m going to follow it up by sharing a brief breakdown of each individual segment. So, without further ado, to the Score we go:
G: General Entertainment – The story on the whole is a fairly generalized tale of the zompocalypse: from the initial beginnings of exposure through phases of panic and research, to the eventual decimation of the population, no stone is left unturned in this tale. However, due to the segmented nature of the film and the relatively short exposure time to each piece of the puzzle, a fair amount of the story gets lost in translation; it takes a keenly-aware viewer who can pick up all the inferences to logically “connect the dots” and enjoy the most complete experience possible. 6/10
O: Original Content – In addition to some intriguing plot points about the genesis of the virus and how the government might choose to counter-attack it, the singular nature of how this film was developed and created immediately skyrockets the Score in this category. I’m not sure I’ll ever see another movie like this, practically entirely student-run and created not only for love of the craft but also as an extremely educational opportunity. 9/10
R: Realism – While most of the writing and dialogue was solid from section to section, one of the largest detriments to not working with professional actors is that, obviously, on-screen presence and delivery of dialogue will suffer in comparison to what the average viewer gets from an average movie. The folks on-screen in Project 9 certainly did a serviceable job, but at the end of the day it is an amateur production (and I mean “amateur” in status, not in derogation). 6/10
E: Effects and Editing – Again, since we have students still in “learning mode” taking care of the effects and editing, the quality just can’t be up to par with most films about the undead you’ll pop into your DVD player (although I have seen “professional” productions with far, FAR worse values than Project 9). For a non-professional project, however, I dare anyone to show me something better than what the RIT crew has given us here. 5/10
TOTAL SCORE: 6.5/10
Now, as promised, a brief recap of the pros/cons of each individual segment. Please take the “cons” with a grain of salt, as I am only pointing out certain problems or issues with the hopes of giving any of the RIT students who read this review the opportunity to learn and grow even further from this wonderful project.
Section 1 – The Beginning (directed by Brianna Colleen Byrne): “A mysterious person has just proposed that he will essentially turn a fraction of humanity into ‘living zombies’ in order to thin out the population and save the planet’s resources. The world leaders laugh at the idea, until a demonstration is given…” It’s a very plot-heavy beginning to the tale, but with good reason, as the story must be set-up here. The camerawork purposefully avoids showing zombies close-up, most likely due to the desire to keep effects budget and screen-time minimal. The female Corporate CEO’s soliloquies may go on slightly too long, detracting from her realism. Excellent lighting and sound effects in this section.
Section 2 – Infection (directed byBrendan Nagle): “When a disease or contagion sweeps the nation, there is widespread panic, and a mad dash to the hospital. But before people get to the hospitals, the doctors and nurses are vaccinated. What if that was the world’s biggest mistake?” The hospital setting we are shown here is serviceable, but largely plain. The camera and sound work when following doctor around home as he succumbs to infection is well-done. In other spots, though, sound and camera is spotty, a prime example being the extreme amount of camera rotation during the back-and-forth of the two Doctors.
Section 3 – Preparation (directed by Romeal Hogan): “Talk to any horror movie fan, and the majority of them will say they have a plan. A plan for when the ZOMBIES come! Watch and see how putting one of these plans into action may not always be best for those around you.” The video contrast between first and second cuts in this section is extremely noticeable and somewhat distracting. The actors in this section come across as unbelievable, and the dialogue seems a little forced. Nice touch with the inclusion of the main character watching “Night of the Living Dead” on TV. I also appreciate the inclusion of the deaf child, the usage of American Sign Language (ASL), and the captions given to the viewer, but as someone who has studied ASL in the past, I know that the amount of signing to the child wasn’t quite realistically adequate to convey the information being presented.
Section 4 – Attack (directed by Keri Rommel): “What happens when four unsuspecting teens go off into the woods to spend a weekend at a cabin on a lake? Anything, it seems. But these kids have a car and cell phones. Maybe they’ll be all right…” Probably a little too much cursing here, as it seemed like every third or fourth word was an F-bomb! Also, it seems like the actors in this segment are standing and waiting to read their next lines, which obviously disconnects the viewer from the realistic feel of the tale. The high contrast with the inside lights leads to lots of shadows being cast, including one of the boom microphone, oops! I could have used more realism with the effects in this section; one female gets what should be a rather grisly wound when she is attacked on a bed, and gore should have been shown splattered around, especially on those white bedsheets! While I liked the premise, I feel that this is the weakest of the sections so far.
Section 5 – Experiment (directed by Adam Schonberg): “Of course, the first thing to do when a sickness is taking over the population is to capture a subject and run tests. Regardless of the subject’s well-being, there are some things that must be discovered. Hopefully, there is one person willing to stand up and challenge authority.” This segment features some odd sound editing; are the musical bursts actually sounds ripped from “Night” or another zombie film, and are they embellished loudly for effect? Initially, I thought the “isolated” shots of Jane, the zombie being experimented on, were a projection of her mentality trapped inside her psyche (she was alone in a dark space and spoke out loud), but that was not the case. The ending of this piece is designed to be so climactic, I felt that it actually ended up oppositely so when the “big reveal” came.
Section 6 – The Exception (directed by Dan Sullivan): “There is an exception to every rule. Dan is that exception. He explains how he’s managed to survive on his own for so long. But even the strongest people have their breaking point, and Dan makes one rash decision after the next. Watch the sad tale of a man in an unfortunate situation.” Interesting “I Am Legend” feel to this part, although the scene definitely could have benefitted from more emotion in the narration. I must admit, I’m a little confused by the message the ending was trying to convey; leaving a conclusion open to interpretation runs the risk of your viewer not “getting it” at all. Or maybe I’m just not as smart as I think. 🙂
Section 7 – Extermination (directed by John Theroux): “All hope of saving the infected is lost. It’s a sad realization, but a reality. The military has formed units to go out and hunt these people in order to save what’s left of humanity. But when individuals are given control, sometimes they take it too far.” This segment features a singular look in this film into the militaristic/mercenary lifestyle. The sound editing here relies a little too heavily on constant ominous music. Excellent ending to this portion, leaving the viewer wondering who you are really rooting for.
Section 8 – The Cure (directed by Jason Stoy): “There are five working military bases still left in America. And a new plan has emerged that will utilize a new weapon. After the distribution of tainted medicine, the representatives to the people must inform the civilian survivors of the horrifying news.” An interesting and unique conceit, that of eradicating the first infection by unleashing another. Unfortunately, a good storyline and above-average acting is bogged down by heavy sound editing and clunky, dark camera work. This segment may feature the most zombie effects and gore of the entire film, and this aspect of the story is handled very well.
Section 9 – The Result (directed by Jonas Pachuski): “The young have become wanderers, living day to day, enjoying some semblance of the return of their lives, and believing that they have outlived the second infection. But life is full of surprises, and Bernie begins comparing his life now to the one he had before everything went wrong, coming to one final conclusion.” This segment is actually based loosely on a Stephen King short story, Night Surf.” King has a deal in place with educational institutions called the Dollar Baby Deal, where any student production may adapt and produce one of his short stories for just $1, and that is what was done here. This segment is interesting from an editing approach of using one continuous and unbroken long-shot, but the effect is muted by characters that we neither know nor care for (and a leading man with a possibly-unintentional case of the sniffles?). The final moments, while haphazard, put an oddly apropos cap on this singular project.
I have truly had a great time viewing and reviewing this unique film, and I applaud everyone at RIT who was involved with making this project come to life. As of right now, Project 9 is not available for retail sale, due primarily to legal restrictions with the King short story. Section 7, “Extermination,” can be viewed in its entirety online by clicking here, and the rest of the film will hopefully be uploaded online at this site soon. The homepage for the project, where you can see clips and images in addition to learning more, can be found by clicking here.
And now, my friends, you know the Score!