People think that every angle on the zombie movie has been covered. Zombies attack small farmhouse… check. Zombie menace from outer space invades a tiny town and then threatens a small farmhouse… check. Satanic cult performs unholy ritual and causes corpses to rise from their graves and enact revenge on their landlord for not fixing the leaky toilet in a small farmhouse… check. Voodoo priestess turns an entire village into zombies who dance and sing their way through a graveyard on their way to attack a small farmhouse… double-check. Yep, that’s one tapped out genre. Wasting Away proves just how wrong that theory is. In true independent film style Sean and Matthew Kohnen have given the zombie idea a completely unexpected twist and breathed undead life into it.
Wasting Away starts with a familiar opening. An army documentary film of an experiment with a new drug, expected to create super soldiers, goes awry turning their guinea pig into a flesh eating monster. The army decides to dump the drug so they pack it into barrels, mislabel it as bulk baby formula and assign two clueless stooges to truck the stuff away. Of course, there’s bound to be an accident dumping one of the barrels. It rolls away and empties it’s contents in the back of a bowling alley where Mike (Matthew Davis) and Tim (Michael Terry), two twenty-something buddies, are hauling boxes of soft serve base into the concessions stand as they set up for league night. Yes, as a matter of fact, it does soak through the boxes and into the half gallon containers before it’s dumped into the soft serve dispenser to be frozen and dispensed to the general public. Before that happens, however, they mix in a little beer and have some with their girlfriends, Cindy (Betsy Buetler) and Vanessa (Julianna Robinson). Cue the screaming and convulsing as they collapse and die… but not for long.
Normally, when the main characters of a movie die, that’s it, roll end credits, pray for a sequel and clean up the popcorn. With Wasting Away, that’s literally the beginning. It’s also the point where the extremely dark black & white cinematography turns technicolor and the jokes begin. It doesn’t take long before these clueless young people are making some of the most outrageous, and sometimes downright disgusting, comments about their semi-living state. Unable to use their cell phones, or a pay phone they rip off the wall at the bowling alley, the foursome stumble and shuffle their way down the street and approach a group of guys who bolt and run. They’re approached by a man in a black leather jacket, and a handle bar from a motorcycle sticking out of his abdoment, who claims to be a special ops soldier on a mission to infiltrate the military base where the experiments took place. He then convinces the four that the rest of the world is now infected with a toxin that has driven them insane and that the five of them may be the only normal ones still left.
Jumping back and forth between noir-esque black & white and vivid technicolor the Kohnen’s achieve something unprecedented. The viewer gets to see life, or after life, through the eyes of the poor, defenseless zombies. Along with a constant hunger for brains and a distinctly nerdy love story this movie refuses to take itself seriously. That, essentially, makes the entire film work, brilliantly. Not a single minute goes by without a shot at traditional zombie movies or some situation that makes you wonder how the entire cast and crew managed to keep a straight face, at all.
It’s difficult to write about this movie without giving too much away. It’s worth seeing it for yourself. No matter what your preconceptions are you’ll get something entirely unexpected. That is an accomplishment worth the effort. Truthfully the production values are surprisingly good and rookie director Matt Kohnen deserves credit for telling a corny story with a respectful eye for small details.
While it’s not exactly a family movie, too much gore and swearing for that, it doesn’t have any of the gratuitous nudity that most horror films revel in. Teens and young adults will enjoy it just as much as older veterans who enjoyed the George Romero classics it lampoons. This one really is destined to become a cult classic and rightly so.
Matthew Kohnen (director) / Matthew Kohnen, Sean Kohnen (screenplay)
CAST: Jose Acevedo … US Soldier
Christopher ‘Critter’ Antonucci … Zombie
Betsy Beutler … Cindy
Michael Cornacchia … Frumpy Guy
Matthew Davis … Mike
Colby French … Nick Steele
David Garcia … Soldier