The new wave of French horror marches on relentlessly with “The Horde”, a fast paced zombie thriller which marks the debut of writer directors Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher. Having won Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography at the 2010 Fantasporto International Film Festival, the film has been building up a fair amount of buzz as a superior example of the post “28 Days Later” sprinting ghoul apocalyptic subgenre. With a vaguely recognisable cast that includes the likes of Claude Perron (“Amelie”), Eriq Ebouaney (“Transporter 3”), Aurelien Récoing (“Intimate Enemies”) and Doudou Masta (“Arthur and the Minimoys”), the film keeps the brutal action coming thick and fast, with Dahan and Rocher aiming for a hard boiled edge in the style of classic John Carpenter.
The plot is neatly streamlined, and quickly gets down to business as a bunch of cops break into an abandoned high rise apartment block where a gang of drug dealers are hiding out, figuring to take revenge for a murdered colleague. Things don’t go as planned, and the gang quickly turn the tables and take them prisoner. However, as the city is rocked by a series of explosions and fires, and the building is invaded by a horde of vicious, fast moving assailants, they soon realise that they have bigger problems at hand than each other. Knowing that their only way out is to fight their way downstairs, an uneasy alliance between cops and crooks is formed, as they try to put aside their murderous differences and turn their anger towards the ever growing tide of flesh hungry ghouls.
Despite the zombie angle, “The Horde” is really more of a dark thriller than a horror film, with a focus on action instead of frights and influences such as “Assault on Precinct 13” and the works of Walter Hill rather than Romero’s living dead opuses. Dahan and Rocher keep things tight and tense throughout, and the film hurtles along at a breakneck pace, rarely giving the viewer pause for breath. Although there really isn’t much to the familiar sounding plot, with little time wasted on worrying about explanations or the like, the film is gripping, mainly due to an interesting set of characters.
The film is steadfastly nihilistic, with neither the cops nor the gang being likeable or even particularly honourable. Bravely, Dahan and Rocher eschew giving the audience any kind of protagonist or obvious hero figure to root for, with the two sides both being consumed with infighting while trying their best to get an advantage over each other. As such, some of the character deaths are genuinely surprising, and it’s made very clear from early on that everyone is fair game. This does make the film decidedly bleak viewing, and it certainly has a very tough edge, though this serves it very well, and it keeps its nerve right through to the inevitable, though still shocking downbeat ending.
In terms of blood and guts, the film really delivers the gore groceries, with an impressive number of visceral scenes and splatter money shots. Compared with other outings in the sprinting zombie genre, the film’s main innovation is a great one, introducing hand to hand combat in the most brutal fashion. This actually makes quite a difference, and it’s both thrilling and amusing to see the characters not running from the ghouls, but launching themselves at them with punches and bone crunching head butts. Dahan and Rocher keep notching things up, and during the later stages the heavy artillery is whipped out, resulting in waves of zombies being mown down and literally blown to pieces in vast clouds of red mist. The special effects and production values in general are of a high standard, and when the blood begins to flow and body parts fly the film is pleasingly free of the kind of CGI gore which has reduced the impact of many of its peers.
All of this combines to make “The Horde” one of the best of its kind, and further proof that the French really are the current leaders in raw, hard hitting horror. Arguably superior to the recent “Rec 2”, the film never puts a foot wrong, with enough gruesome thrills to please even the most jaded genre fans.
Yannick Dahan, Benjamin Rocher (director) / Yannick Dahan, Benjamin Rocher (screenplay)
CAST: Claude Perron … Aurore
Jean-Pierre Martins … Ouessem
Eriq Ebouaney … Adewale
Aurélien Recoing … Jimenez
Doudou Masta … Bola
Antoine Oppenheim … Tony
Jo Prestia … Greco
Yves Pignot … René