State of Emergency (2010)


I always think that if an independent filmmaker is going to make a zombie movie, focus on characters if you can’t deliver hordes of flesh eating zombies. While I’m not sure how director Turner Clay approached the script initially, “State of Emergency” is sparse on zombie carnage, but rich in human drama and characterization. Most of “State of Emergency” focuses on a small cast of survivors trying to wait out the zombie apocalypse, and how they deal with their day to day activities. Whether its boredom, restlessness, and desperation for help, director Turner Clay unfolds his narrative wisely, adding an ominous presence to his zombies, while also transforming our protagonists in to characters we can root for, and empathize with.

Part horror, part disaster film, and part human drama, “State of Emergency” focuses on a small rural area where an explosion in factory has let loose a mysterious chemical. Said chemical has turned the surrounding area in to ground zero for all kinds of activity, including infection. Those unfortunate enough to be within the blast zone have been infected by the chemicals and transformed in to flesh eating rabid zombies. Jim is one of the few lucky survivors that’s managed to flee from the carnage, but during the escape his wife is mortally wounded and dies. Star Jim Hayden gives an excellent performance as protagonist Jim, a man not too familiar with the severity of the outbreak, but is smart enough to secure himself and begin preparing for a long wait for help. Most of the first half of the film focuses solely on Jim, as he sits in a barn secured, and awaiting help, while also watching for immediate threats, and mourning the loss of his wife.

When he gets a radio signal from another survivor, he retreats to a warehouse miles away from his safe haven and teams up with three other survivors waiting out the disaster. Director Turner Clay implements the limited budget well, offering a very desolate tone amidst the lone warehouse in the middle of an open field. Though the four survivors can perfectly see the dead looming over the hill, the dead can also see them, and it becomes a waiting game for both parties. The characterization is great as well, as Clay builds on the three new characters, building an interesting dynamic, and insists on focusing on how people in bad situations work well together, rather than focus on human cruelty. Though the foursome does eventually bicker in some instances, the drama becomes ever more gripping when they’re working as a unit to fight off the dead, while also hoping for a rescue.

This especially becomes true when character Iggs is revealed to be diabetic, prompting Jim to heroically venture in to the wasteland to garner insulin for her, which is transformed in to a very uneasy game of hide and seek, while protagonist Jim struggles to keep his head straight. Turner Clay’s direction is the real highlight of “State of Emergency” as he turns the disaster in to a genuinely terrifying situation. Especially considering the likelihood of human error allows the zombies to infiltrate safe havens. One moment in the beginning of the movie involving Nick alone in the darkness of his ban safe haven as he looks for a potential intruder is especially intense. A surprisingly compelling and well made horror film, “State of Emergency” wisely injects the walking dead and gore where it’s necessary, and focuses instead on gut-wrenching human drama and surviving in a disastrous situation.