Sunday, March 18, 2007

Trusting Old People

Andrew Currie's just-released feature film Fido is a very charming, amusing and even heart-warming take on the zombie film. If you can imagine that. I'm sure you can, you're very imaginative.

One gets the feeling the idea for this film came from those last couple of minutes of Shaun of the Dead, with zombies carrying shopping bags and so on. Currie's film takes place in a world where the zombies have been domesticated (with the occasional failure here and there), and the world is now in the grip of fanatical security-minded zombie-hunters.

There's much gentle satire throughout the film, and Currie uses the zombie metaphor to bounce a variety of topics out at the audience. Targets such as security-justified losses of civil rights, paranoia, abuse of undesirables and neglect of the elderly all get clever shots taken at them.

"You can't trust old people. Any second you might turn around and find Grandpa coming for your throat."

It's all handled with admirable subtlety.

The young K'Sun Ray (I just report 'em, I don't make 'em up) carries the film as Timmy Robinson, with the help of Billy Connolly's hilarious turn as the zombie dubbed Fido (a joke that pays off better than you think it will a couple of times), but it's Carrie-Ann Moss' Helen Robinson, who goes from shallow "what-will-the-neighbors-think" paranoia to bold and fearless defender of her unconventional son without a moment out of place or awkward, who really lights up this film. Moss' performance is both savage and sympathetic, and her transformation is the heart of the whole story.

The early parts of the film echo Brad Bird's The Iron Giant in their mockery of mid-20th-century self-righteous propaganda, but Fido's got different axes on the grindstone than did Mr. Bird. Even with the same basic idea of a young boy who befriends a stranger that adults view with fear, Currie ventures into distinctly more uncomfortable terrain than Bird. Timmy's burgeoning friendship with Fido, as pathetic as it is, unravels the society around him, peeling away the layers of hypocrisy that allow everyone to deal with the unending terror of a world beset with the walking dead.

It is in this hypocrisy and its gleeful manifestations that Fido really shines. One of the ideas the film toys with is the difficulty so many of us having with forming strong attachments to others. We get hurt and we grow cynical and refuse to open our hearts to one another, to spare ourselves the pain of being betrayed yet again. Of course, in a world where your loved ones will rise from the dead and seek your braaaaaiiiinnnnnssss, there are whole levels to betrayal we rarely have to worry about.

If Grandad suffers a heart attack upstairs and dies in bed, he'll be coming downstairs looking for living flesh before you know he's a goner. This is exactly what happened to Timmy's father, and the poor man's trauma is both heart-rending and hilarious. Of course, the film fights against Dad's fear, and tells us that reaching out to others IS worth doing. Even when the "other" is a flesh-eating monster.

A worthy point, and made with exuberant savagery towards those who counsel paranoia (a fitting and relevant theme these days), but ultimately the film suffers from being unable to get past its own sentimentality. Everyone and everything is attacked in this film EXCEPT this notion, and that speaks of a lack of courage on the part of the film-makers. Truly great satire (it was Steph who convinced me of this) requires unflinching focus and follow-through. A great satire like Time Bandits leaves NO sentiment unscathed and no character unspotted with flung muck. Fido is, ultimately, too sentimental to turns its satirical gaze on Timmy's devotion.

A sentimental zombie film? Truly we are witnessing a passage in our culture.

Fido is charming and occasionally gut-bustingly funny in a clever and savage fashion that is quite welcome in this age of gross-out comedy.

And it suggests that a DEAD father is in many ways a superior parent to a LIVE father. Especially as they get older. Because you just can't trust old people.