Fantastic Fest Review: WHAT WE BECOME

Do you have room for yet another zombie movie in your life?

What We Become is a zombie movie, and as such, you’re likely familiar with everything that’s going to happen here. You’ve got the introduction to a normal family that has no idea the kind of hell it’s about to experience. You’ve got news reports that start coming in over the television and radio about people getting sick, and then people coughing and collapsing in the background. Finally, you have the immediate neighbors getting sick and a quarantine being called, and terrified people that start to fear each other as much as the masked soldiers holding them at bay. And then - zombie chowdown.

What We Become doesn’t really do anything to change up that formula, one that’s been so cinematically abused for the last few decades. Films seem to have stayed away from it in the eleven years (!) since Shaun of the Dead spoofed it so masterfully, nailing that ominous descent into chaos well. (Also, amusingly, What We Become is the name of the tenth trade paperback of The Walking Dead.)

So this is nothing new, right? Why should you bother with a film where you know almost every beat?

Well here, it’s the family that’s important. The mother, father, teenage son and young daughter the film focuses on all feel very real, and it’s all about their struggle. When we meet them we’re dealing with the usual issues any family has. The son is starting to get interested in the girl next door and doesn’t know how to approach it. The mother is mad because she’s always playing the bad guy, and the father is frustrated because no one is really taking him seriously anymore. The clever thing about this movie, which waits until the very last act for the full zombie reveal, is that it chooses to amplify those problems by placing them in this tense situation.

The quarantine, in particular, drives them mad. With their whole house sealed up in black plastic, they’re cut off from all their support networks. Every morning they bring out bags of garbage and leave them outside, swapping them for boxes of lousy MREs left by the gas mask-clad soldiers, who train guns on them in case they think of running out. Their electricity and gas sporadically cuts in and out, leaving them forced to eat cold food or light candles.

The movie also cleverly opens up on a very tense moment involving two of the family members, a scene whose interpretation is completely left up for you to figure out, making you fear for just what might happen later on.

But even without the looming threat of zombies, you’re watching family dynamics shift and become more intense, and that alone is worth the price of admission. But then of course it’s got all the bloodshed and characters making stupid decisions (opening up cargo boxes full of zombies isn’t a good idea kids, don’t do it) that will make horror fans very happy.

Think of What We Become as more of a family drama with zombie wrappings and you’ll enjoy things better. Horror fans will certainly get their fix, eventually, but this film isn’t about that. It’s about people being put in extreme situations and their true faces and fears coming to the surface. That’s what makes it better than it ever should be considering the retread ground.