Brain Freeze, 2021.
Written and directed by Julien Knafo.
Starring Iani Bédard, Roy Dupuis, Marianne Fortier, Anne-Élisabeth Bossé, and Claudia Ferri.
A fertiliser used in a rich gated community becomes the source of a genetic mutation that transforms its residents into zombies. Can a teenager and his baby sister break free from the quarantined island before turning into grass?
Undead cinema as a vehicle for satire was popularised by George A. Romero’s Dawn of The Dead more than four decades ago, and few films since have matched its masterful blend of artful blood-letting and trenchant social commentary.
Julien Knafo’s new zom-com Brain Freeze takes clear aim at contemporary class warfare and environmentalism through this genre lens, though neither its topicality nor its violence feel pointed enough to deliver an entirely compelling end result – despite a fair effort.
In Quebec’s upmarket Peacock Island winter is setting in, yet the well-to-do locals want to play golf all year round without the snow ruining the nearby resort’s turf. And so, the club colludes with a shady corporation to spray a fertiliser-like compound on its grass which allows the grass to endure harsh weather and leave the course playable 365 days per year.
However, the compound ends up seeping into the local water supply, causing anyone who drinks it to transform into a green-eyed, zombie-like mutant. At ground zero for the outbreak is 13-year-old André (Iani Bédard), who is forced to flee with his one-year-old sister Annie in tow, while teaming up with down-and-out security guard Dan (Roy Dupuis), who as a doomsday prepper is more equipped to deal with this bizarre scenario than anyone else.
Beyond its oddball setup, Brain Freeze is a relatively ordinary, garden-variety zombie movie at its core, ripping through genre tropes with a seemingly enthusiastic efficiency. Despite this, our central characters take until the third act of the movie to realise precisely what’s going on, no matter that it’s spelled out to the audience at the very start of the story.
The teaming-up of a wealthy young kid with a downtrodden survivalist security guard makes for a simple yet effective juxtaposition of classes, as is really the film’s key theme. The wealthy elites wish to bend the laws of nature to their will by defeating the elements while disregarding the safety of everyone else, but come to find nature literally biting back at them in the most literal sense.
Class will always be a ripe theme for satire as long as these chasms of inequality exist, though don’t expect much in the way of subtlety or nuance here; one well-minted member of the golf club just barely stops short of winking at the audience as he declares, “golf is a social status.” The swipes at populist, anti-science politics are also broader-than-broad, but in a film where the cartoonishly evil villain literally kicks a dog, it at least feels tonally consistent.
While the horror aspect doesn’t take long to get moving, gore-hounds are best off knowing upfront that there’s little beyond standard-issue throat-rips and some limb-based slapstick to savour. Due to this and the slack suspense sequences, the pic is more effective as a comedy; arguably nothing is funnier here than the fact that young André avoids the initial round of infections because he drinks nothing but Coca Cola.
And really it’s the performances which keep the film chugging along even when it’s treading water otherwise. As our teen and middle-aged leads respectively, Iani Bédard and Roy Dupuis make for a fun odd couple, though the show is well and truly stolen by twins Claire and Leonie Ledru, who together play André’s young sister. As the adorable, frequently imperiled baby at the epicenter of the outbreak, their perfectly-timed reactions suggest they’re naturals in front of the camera, serving as the glue in the film’s central eccentric surrogate family.
Overall, Brain Freeze does feel a little malnourished; the modest approach to gore, unconvincing attempts to be emotive, and intriguing-but-underexplored body horror aspects suggest that the entire project needed a little more time to bake. Still, the 91-minute runtime whips by speedily enough, and it’s hardly a chore to sit through.
Not without its amusing moments but ultimately too shallow to truly deliver, Brain Freeze feels a few drafts away from being a potent zombie-satire.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.