An underfunded university professor is on track to build the world’s first bio-computer using genetically engineered bacteria when something goes terribly wrong. Now that something is top of the food chain.
Zombie movies come and go, but rarely do they become ground-breaking cult or hit films. Independent zombie features get produced by the shovel each year, and even more rarely are they enjoyable. Entertaining titles that come to mind are 2004’s “Hide and Creep” and 2005’s “The Stink of Flesh”. With his second directorial feature film (which he also wrote), Sean Bingham brought us “Zombacter: Center City Contagion”. Let’s see how it fairs in the crowded world of independent zombie films.
A scientist working on a revolutionary project involving bacteria on rabbit brains sees his dreams evaporate when an employee is bitten by one of the bunnies, mutating the bacteria and transforming said victim into a zombie. The virus spreads faster than can be controlled and very soon, the scientist at the center of it all joins up with a small group of survivors in attempts to fight off the undead and develop a solution to the outbreak.
Now the storyline is nothing out of the ordinary in the zombie subgenre: virus is being handled, virus outbreak; virus spreads and the living dead run wild on the town. Box office zombie movies do it; independent ones as well. Once we accept this fact, it’s all about how the director presents this to us and if we get attached to characters. Writer/director Sean Bingham does a decent job at most of the aspects to hook you in. From the beginning, the camera shots and angles are quite dynamic and interesting while the omni-present soundtrack fits well and binds the movie together. Without comparing Bingham to George A. Romero, his style of zombie film has a slight Romero-esque feel to it, where the zombies roam around slowly, aimlessly, looking around with an empty stare, and seeming to each have their own little personality. Despite not having any social criticism like most Romero films, this one still has a variety of characters, including the resident jerk (a little like in “Night of the Living Dead”).
You’ll begin to show empathy and get attached to some characters, mainly the head scientist, Dr. Jake Northrop (Eric Starkey who will have a part in the upcoming “Stillwater”, featuring Matt Damon), as he delivers a genuine performance onscreen. Sadly, though, it isn’t the entire cast that delivers a genuine performance, as some make it obvious that their lines are rehearsed and not credible.
There are other numerous downfalls to “Zombacter”, sadly. The sound effects when there is action (there is a bit of a lack of zombie action/violence throughout the film) is probably one of its biggest flaws. When guns are being shot, the sounds are very weak and ineffective (sounding more like paintball guns being fired than real firearms) and any impact from punches or blunt objects sound dull and underwhelming. Despite having some decent practical effects in regards to gore, there could have been opportunities for much more throughout the movie.
As mentioned above, Bingham did an honorable job at writing and directing, but the final product is far from perfect, as well. While the make-up effects department executed a respectable piece of work, it sometimes seems as if director Sean Bingham keeps the camera on the zombie’s face as if to say: “Hey, look at the great job we did! No, but really: keep looking!” Sometimes, less is better. In addition to that, the lack of action and violence altogether is disappointing, not to mention the very anti-climactic ending.
While “Zombacter: Center City Contagion” doesn’t stand out as an independent zombie film and is mainly disappointing, it isn’t a complete waste of time. Bingham shows some potential as a director (this only being his second directorial responsibility), while his writing skills can only improve from her on out (this was the first movie he wrote). We’ll attribute the score of 5/10 to his zombie feature film.