July 27, 2009

DVD Review: Choking Hazard

I do believe this is a first for me. Prior to watching this movie, I do not believe I have ever seen a movie from the Czech Republic. Of course, it has to be a horror film, it seems that when it comes to foreign cinema, it is generally easier to get genre related films, as genre fans tend to soak up whatever they can get their hands on. I could be completely off base here, but that is the way I see it. Anyway, this zombie film is my introduction to Czech film and it is a decidedly mixed bag.

Choking Hazard is a horror comedy that has the unique distinction of bringing in existentialism to the mix, using the zombies as an example of the battle between instinct and reason, topped with the struggle to find a balance between the two, which, when reached, would lead to a profound understanding of the meaning of life. Does it succeed? Not really, although to be fair, I suspect there is something lost in the translation, cultural differences that do not come across all that clearly.

The movie centers on a small and varied group of people, or victims as many of them turn out to be. They are not friends, buddies, or co-workers, rather they have all signed up for the same class. It is a philosophy class being given by a blind man who bears a passing resemblance to Bob Hoskins crossed with Anthony Hopkins. Much like in The Haunting of Hill House, the teacher takes the group to an abandoned hotel in order to be secluded from the real world in a location where they can focus more strongly on what they are attempting to accomplish.

Before the group goes to the hotel, they were charged with creating a video representing what they are about and what they are looking for. We get to see some of these clips during the opening credits. It is an element that comes into play throughout; you know, if it isn't recorded, it never really happened.

Before the group is able to get too far into their examination of existence, of that struggle between instinct and reason, the dead rise up from the woods all around them and make their way to the hotel in the hopes finding the one thing that can quench their hunger. That's right, they are looking for brains.

When the zombies show up, the action really begins. The merry band of bickering students get split up as they do their best to retain their lives. I am not sure what to think about this. Yes, the zombies are kind of fun and some of the things they do are awfully random, which is fun, but it does not really make for a good movie.

I understand that they are trying to make a philosophical statement, but I am just not seeing it. It is a movie that I am sure has a message, but since I could not really put the pieces together, I chose to sit back and take it in as just another zombie film. Unfortunately, there is not much of a story tell and while there are many sequences to like, they are greater than the sum of the parts.

There is no explanation of where the zombies came from, other than they are all woodsmen. What that means, I could not say. They are all dressed the same, so there is a definite connection between them. They are also introduced with the title card "Instinct." Later on we get a different, smaller group of similarly dressed brain-munchers, but they are a little smarter, they are introduced as "Reason." Hmmm, could these guys be tying into the blind professor's lectures? I am sure of it, but what does it mean? What does it mean? Sorry, couldn't rightly tel you. Well, let's just skip the purpose of the story as I can tell this is not going to go anywhere.

What helps this movie work as a pure entertainment is the style. It is low budget affair, but director Marek Dobes brings plenty of style to bear. It is sort of like an existential, Quentin Tarantino, zombie film made on a $20 budget. I am sure it cost much more than that, but I am sure you catch my meaning. There are some nice angles and cuts, plus some fantastic slow motion shots that are icing on the cake rather than anything substantive, but it works.

As for the performances, they are what you would expect for this sort of film. Many of the characters are of the throwaway variety. There were a couple that stood out. There is the slacker character who never looks like he wants to be there, and just works as he makes his way through the onslaught with an ever bemused expression. Then there is the girl with the little Princess Leia-like hair-buns that seems to be having fun. However, the one character that made the biggest impression is the porn star who also happens to be a Jehovah's Witness, an odd combination that is just very funny, plus he gets the best final moment of the bunch.

Audio/Video. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen video looks pretty good. It has a realistic color palette and there is a good level of detail through the shadows. It is not up to the latest Hollywood blockbuster standards, but were you really expecting that? I didn't think so. Still, it is nicely done. The audio is in the same realm. The Czech language track is always clear, although not the most active. It has a good range, although it fails to really stand out in any way.

Extras. This Fangoria (through Media Blasters) release has a few extras along with the film.
  • Commentary. This track is with director Marek Dobes. I only listened to a little bit of the track as I grew quite bored with it. It is in English, but Dobes English is not the best and he is a droll, low talker. He seems to have plenty of information to relate if you want to try it.
  • The Making of Choking Hazard. This featurette runs for 45 minutes and has plenty of behind the scenes footage from the set.
  • Music Video. This i for one of the rock tunes from the film and features footage from the movie.
  • Photo Gallery. This consists of five minutes worth of stills from the set.
  • Original Trailer. Just what it says.

Bottomline. This is sort of fun in a manic, free-wheeling manner. Again, there are some wonderful parts, some cool shots, and plenty to like, but it just does not add up to a complete movie experience.

Mildly Recommended.


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