Movie review: These zombies are fast and ravenous in timely 'Block Z'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 31 2020 12:25 PM

Movie review: These zombies are fast and ravenous in timely 'Block Z' 1
Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto lead the cast of 'Block Z'

One day, a woman named Angie showed up at the hospital of San Lazaro University for an alleged dog bite on her ankle. However, she had a seizure and died on the ER bed. Before she was brought to the morgue, the corpse suddenly sat up and attacked an intern, biting him on the neck. Then the guy in turn attacked another ER nurse, and so on. Soon, the whole hospital, and later the whole campus would be overrun by these murderous bloodthirsty creatures.

The main zombie fighting action focused on a gang of fourth year medical students in block Z: the sulky PJ (Julia Barretto), the jock Lucas (Joshua Garcia), the brainy Erika (Maris Racal), and the nerd Myles (McCoy de Leon). In another part of the school, PJ's father Mario (Ian Veneracion) fought off zombies with security guard Bebeth (Dimple Romana) while taking care of a little girl Ruby (Miel Espinoza). Meanwhile, student council president Gelo (Yves Flores) called for a helicopter rescue, but it could only come 12 hours later.

The first time I had seen zombies in a local movie was in the film "Supergirl" (Howard Petersen, 1973) starring Pinky (who later used the surname Montilla) in the title role. The final crisis Supergirl faced was a horde of dead people (memorably including Walter Navarro and Ike Lozada) who were raised back to life by a witch (Odette Khan but of course) to terrorize and kill the barrio folk. I was still a child back then, but I remember their ashen faces, dark circles around their eyes and their slow trudging gait up to now. In contrast, these "Block Z" zombies kept up with modern trends, with more sophisticated prosthetic makeup and moved a lot faster.

Watch more on iWantTFC

The route from the faculty room where the four friends got together to the hospital was being discussed using a map. It would have been better to have been shown by an overhead drone to show the distances between the buildings better. The way they were running from the assembly area to the parking area, to the church, to the dorm, to the pool, to the hospital, did not really feel like they were all within a single compound. To put this in perspective, it actually took them 12 hours to go from the administration building to the hospital. Even if they were dodging or fighting zombies along the way, it was if they were traversing an entire city, instead of just a single school campus. 

The main cast of young stars (Barretto, Garcia, Racal, and de Leon) all did well playing their particular campus stereotype. All were given their own moments to show off their dramatic chops amidst the carnage. It was fun to hear them mouth medical jargon to explain the zombie attacks as a rabies-like viral infection. 

Veneracion was quite effective in his father role, and he was even given a moment to show off his guitar and singing skills. It was not easy to believe Romana as a gun-toting security guard but she managed to pull it off. I did not know Flores before this movie, he may not have been so convincing as the arrogant rich brat, but we hate his character anyway. 

Director Mikhail Red, fresh off his 2019 successes, namely box office horror hit "Eerie" and Filipino Netflix pioneer "Dead Kids," comes up with yet another film with action basically confined within a school. He came up with the idea of trapping all the students within campus in a single overnight with an anticipated rescue at 5 am the next day. How these conditions came about were perplexing though. Why did the Chancellor lock the school down without calling for outside help? Why were there trigger-happy armed soldiers on campus? Did the military only have one helicopter to spare? Anyhow, these were the parameters set, so we just have to accept them. 

Was it scary? Well, there were a few startling jump scares. The best scenes were those with many crazy zombies on frenzied attacks. But there were also moments when the pace slowed down too long, or the momentum of action not sustained. Like other horror films, the audience in the movie theater with you would really influence your viewing experience. When I watched, there was no nervous shouting or screaming heard at all, so it was not as fun as it could have been (like maybe on premiere night). At least, that exciting final sequence in the hospital did elicit some reactions. 

I was hoping Red would have given his zombies some background history (where and how did Angie get her bite) or behavior rules (like other zombie films). As of now, they were only randomly rabid monsters hungry for human blood. The ending hints that a sequel may be coming to let us know these local zombies better.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."