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The biggest problem (and it’s a fixable one at that) with Stephen Bradley’s zombie horror/comedy “Boy Eats Girl” is that it’s too short. As in, clocking in at 70 minutes of actual movie short. As in, “Why is it only 70 minutes long?” short. This film is too short, and it’s hard to fathom why, because there’s a lot here for horror fans to sink their teeth into. As it stands, once the zombies start roaming the streets, over 30 minutes of running time (i.e. the set-up) has already passed, leaving just 40 minutes of zombie mayhem to enjoy. And when you’re selling a zombie movie, giving the audience a meager 40 minutes of what they came for is taking your life into your hands.
Hailing from Ireland , also home to last year’s fantastic “Dead Meat”, there’s little doubt that Bradley and Derek Landy’s “Boy Eats Girl” owes its very existence to Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead”. In that respect, the two films have a lot in common, including their pedigree as horror-comedies rather than straight horror. This leaves plenty of room for a series of gag-a-second writing, with the first 20 minutes or so of “Boy Eats Girl” being crammed full of jokes, sexual and otherwise, all delivered with that airy, detached way the Europeans are so famous for.
The horror element doesn’t begin until hopeless romantic Nathan (David Leon) finds himself dangling from the wrong end of a noose. The problem: a series of wacky misunderstandings has led him to believe that the girl of his dreams, gal pal Jessica (Samantha Mumba) has no interest in him. Luckily for Nathan, his mother works at the local church, where by accident she had discovered a book of Haitian voodoo, which she promptly uses to bring Nathan back from the dead. Now a zombie famish for human flesh, Nathan attempts to go on with life, but a late-night brawl with rugby bully Samson (Mark Huberman) turns the bully into a zombie. While Nathan flees in horror, Samson quickly sires more zombies, and soon the town is overrun by teenage killers craving flesh. Yikes, and you thought you had it rough in high school.
I usually enjoy my zombie movies done with a serious face, but every once in a while it’s a good thing to sprinkle a little comedy into the genre. “Boy Eats Girl” does a fantastic job at this, and is funny from beginning to end. The jokes work wonderfully, and I dare say they actually come at a faster clip than in the British “Shaun of the Dead”. While the top-billed stars get most of the screentime, it’s co-star Sara James, as slutty Cheryl, that steals the show. Watching Cheryl fleeing from zombies while decked out in fashionable high heels and skirt is hilarious. The comedy bits with Cheryl works because James sells it with such commitment, and “Boy Eats Girl” wouldn’t be half the movie it is without her.
Horror-wise, gorehounds will choke on the blood and guts. The movie is, in a word, bloody. Not that Bradley spends a lot of time focusing on the gore the way most low-budget horror filmmakers tend to make the mistake of doing. Instead, Bradley flashes gore and moves onto the next slaying. The film never really wallows in its gore until toward the end, but even that is done for comedic effect. “Boy Eats Girl” is a generally well-directed film, and one can only imagine what the filmmakers must have snipped in the cutting room to knock the film’s running time down to its current 70 minutes.
Which leads me to wonder what a longer film could have made “Boy Eats Girl”. It’s a very good comedy and a serviceable horror movie as is, but extra minutes, and a more ambitious agenda (the zombie outbreak seems to be contained to a small neighborhood block and a group of kids) might have produced something more substantial. Nothing apocalyptic is necessarily, but wouldn’t one of these zombies have wandered out of their neighborhood and infected other blocks by now? And while it’s true that zombie tropes are abused willy nilly, that’s to be expected. Nowadays everyone refuses to stick to what works, i.e. zombies shuffle, not run. The main culprits are, of course, Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” and the recent “Dawn of the Dead” remake.
Because “Boy Eats Girl” is more comedy than horror, it’s no surprise that the sidekicks make more of an impression. Besides Sara James, the other notables are Laurence Kinlan and Tadgh Murphy as Nathan’s mates, two losers who don’t quite understand that they are, in fact, losers. The two sidekicks are so good that they dominate the scenes they share with star David Leon. You can’t help but wish the film had spent more time with the two lovable losers instead of following lovelorn Nathan around. The two leads are okay, but their characters are just not very interesting. Even when Mumba’s Jessica brings the heavy machinery out of the shed to kill zombies, you wonder what kind of glorious effect the sequence could have been generated had slutty Cheryl be the one behind the controls.
Without belaboring the point too much, “Boy Eats Girl” suffers from a terribly short running time. It’s understandable why the filmmakers might have snipped the film to within an inch of its life, with pacing and commercial appeal being two very big reasons. For those who dig the plight of zombie Nathan and his buds Henry, Diggs, and slutty Cheryl, here’s hoping for a longer Director’s Cut to appear in the market sometime in the future. Some horror movies are so bad you wish it would quickly end; “Boy Eats Girl” has such potential that you wish it wasn’t in such a rush to leave.
Stephen Bradley (director) / Derek Landy (screenplay)
CAST: Samantha Mumba …. Jessica
David Leon …. Nathan
Laurence Kinlan …. Henry
Tadhg Murphy …. Diggs
Sara James …. Cheryl
Mark Huberman …. Samson
Paul Reid …. Shane