In a slightly alternate universe to our own, the world has been coping with a zombie plague with a retroviral drug that keeps the infection at bay in those who carry the virus. It’s a clear parable for HIV/AIDS: the first outbreak occurred in the early 80s, the retroviral was first created — from live (undead?) protein harvested from full-blown zombies — in the 1990s, and today being one of the “Returned” is chronic but manageable… as long as an infected gets the medication daily. But fear of and prejudice toward the Returned never really abated, and it is being stoked once again thanks to rumors that the retroviral is running out: ironically, the drug’s effectiveness is the problem, because a lack of zombies means a lack of sources for the required protein. Doubly ironic: within a day of the drug running out, the millions of Returned will become zombies. So, here we have Kate (Emily Hampshire: Cosmopolis), a Toronto doctor who treats the Returned and is helping to search for a synthetic version of the retroviral, not least because her husband, musician and teacher Alex (Kris Holden-Ried: Underworld: Awakening), is one of the Returned himself. As the film opens, they’ve made the tough decision to out Alex’s Returned status to their longtime friends, Jacob (Shawn Doyle: Whiteout) and Amber (Claudia Bassols), and luckily for Kate and Alex, they turn out to be warmly understanding and accepting, and later help shelter the couple when the brains start to hit the fan. The concept of treating zombie-ism as a disease that can be cured is bubbling up all over (it’s also the premise of the very different BBC miniseries In the Flesh, returning later this year); perhaps it was the obvious next step in the evolution of the genre. And this is a very elegant extrapolation, both thematically and dramatically. The Spanish creative team of director Manuel Carballo and screenwriter Hatem Khraiche let the cool Canadian niceness of their cast prevail: this is not the gorefest you might expect from the genre, but an oh-so reasonable film about the irrationality of prejudice and the necessity of socialized health care — even, or perhaps especially, during a slo-mo zombie apocalypse. It’s a chillingly polite film about the fascism that rises quickly up in a moment of fearful crisis. Yet even while it is cuttingly sharp and incisive as speculative SF horror, it is fundamentally a love story: Kate and Alex are a couple whose devotion to each other you are not likely to soon forget.
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