Film4 FrightFest 2013 Review – Stalled (2013)

Stalled, 2013

Directed by Christian James
Starring Dan Palmer, Antonia Bernath, Tamaryn Payne, Mark Holden

SYNOPSIS:

A luckless maintenance gopher finds himself stuck in a ladies restroom during the Zombie apocalypse.

It has been said many times before, but it’s worth mentioning again – getting comedy horror right is a tough task. You either end up being not funny enough to be a comedy or not scary enough to be a horror. Since Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, many imitators have stepped forward trying to be the worthy successor and every single one of them has failed – seemingly no one could bottle the lightening that Wright and his team did. That is until Stalled came along. Christian James and Dan Palmer have cracked the code to produce one of the best horror comedies of all-time, and the easily best zom-com since Shaun of the Dead.

It’s Night of the Living Dead meets Phone Booth as a useless and luckless office maintenance worker (credited as W.C and played by Dan Palmer, who also wrote the movie) is working during the Christmas party and heads into the ladies toilets to finish up his usual tasks.However, a zombie outbreak infects the party and he’s now trapped in a toilet stall while the zombies mill around him. Along with an office worker who is stuck three cubicles down, they try to work out a way to survive the night – and escape their stalls.

Despite there being a few named characters throughout the movie, this is essentially a one-man play with only the co-worker’s voice being his sole companion. James effectively makes our hero feel isolated by never cutting to the other cubicle and instead having her represented by a doodle that W.C draws on the stall wall. As an audience, we only ever see the events of the movie from his point of view which not only leads to a lot of comedy, but it makes the movie feel personal and almost claustrophobic.

Palmer is sublime as the down-on-his-luck hero and his charismatic performance carries the film from the moment it starts all the way until the credits roll. Never at one point does the movie feel too much for him to handle on his own as he effortlessly holds the attention of the audience. His dialogue is brilliantly British and his character is the kind of underdog we all like to root for – even if he has done a few despicable things leading up to the zombie outbreak. As with any good zombie movie, Stalled is not about the monsters, but instead about the character trying to survive, and Palmer’s script nails this.

As mentioned earlier, many movies drop the ball and get the balance wrong when it comes to horror comedies but James and Palmer get everything right. All of the sight gags get the desired reactions and the lines of dialogue written for laughs work. There is a moment that could lose a certain portion of the audience as it, admittedly, does break the flow of the movie, but Palmer’s performance and willingness will lead to some really big laughs. And like any good comedy, there is a great level of re-watchability to Stalled just so you can pick up on the gags that you might have missed first time round (including lines from other famous Christmas movies).

But Stalled also works as a straight-up zombie movie. Every set piece that works around W.C and his co-worker escaping is tense, well shot, and perfectly directed. There’s a scene involving a daring ladder escape that is almost edge of your seat stuff and never feels unbalanced against the rest of the movie. There is also a good amount of human drama and moving moments that are sold perfectly due to the brilliance of the all the actors involved, Palmer’s script and James’ direction.

Stalled does have some minor flaws, but they can all be overlooked due to the brilliance of everything else. This small movie attempts quite a lot and gets virtually all of it right and Stalled deserves all of the critical and fan praise that it’s been receiving. It’s a shame that the movie will constantly be compared to Shaun of the Dead, but at least it’s not in a negative light – this is the worthy successor we’ve been waiting for and has reset the bar of what filmmakers should aim for when making a horror comedy.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of Flickering Myth’s Podcast Network. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.

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