DVD Review: What We Become (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Thom Compton 01.10.2017

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What We Become (UK Rating: 15)

Zombie movies are, to say the least, not in short supply. Much like an app on the Google Play Store or theatrical presentations about the pursuit and death of the American dream, any newcomers need to stand out. Some do this by injecting humour, while others attempt to change the very fabric of zombie DNA to make them more menacing. However, zombie films are, more than most horror sub genres, social commentary. The best ones make viewers self-reflective, acknowledging shortcomings, not as individuals, but as a species. What We Become (or Sorgenfri in its original Danish form, and out now in the UK via Thunderbird Releasing) tries this, but never manages to say anything important or new.

The film tells the story of a family whose neighbourhood is quarantined after an illness sweeps through it. The family shown includes perpetual cool dad, Dino (Troels Lyby), tough but likeable mum, Pernille (Mille Dinesen), generic little girl Maj (Ella Solgaard), and angst-filled, in love teen, Gustav (Benjamin Engell). For the first act of the film, Pernille is really the only likeable character. Dino is too aloof to be likeable, per se, but he is relatable as he just wants to give off the vibe of the cool guy, despite coming off as trying too hard. Mind you, this seems intentional, not an oversight on the actor's part.

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Maj doesn't get a lot of screen time, and most of it is either spent with her being afraid of something (not a zombie, surprisingly), or looking for her rabbit. This lack of character for Maj leaves her to be little more than a child who occasionally takes up everyone else's attention. This leaves Gustav, who is, undoubtedly, the least likeable.

Benjamin Engell plays him perfectly fine, and there is something to be said about teens in horror movies. Really, they aren't very likeable. While most teenagers are a bit more nuanced, horror films tend to relegate the boys to "trying to find themselves, while getting the girl" types of characters, and Gustav fits the bill perfectly. He is distant from his family because, well… puberty.

Gustav gets to pull double duty here, though, as another horror movie cliché, "the character who, through good intentions, messes everything up." A majority of What We Become sees the military as the bad guys (because it's a zombie movie), and Gustav tries to become the hero. Instead, he becomes the singular reason why the situation goes from bad to worse. Meanwhile, he is joined by Sonja (Marie Hammer Boda), who doesn't seem to have much in the way of a personality.

Zombie flicks are all about the characters, and while the performances are relatively good, the characters themselves aren't. There are moments where the characters do things that are so completely illogical that it's almost insulting. Even when the film opens up and lets the characters explore the neighbourhood, it's just to set up predictable moments of shock and anguish.

Zombie movies, at least the good ones, have always pushed the boundaries, and What We Become fails to find any of its own boundaries to push. The moments that are meant to be the most heart breaking are usually just more of the same. The one exception is a scene towards the end, but it also highlights how even some of the moderately likeable characters have, in under 80 minutes, become shallow shells of themselves.

Zombie movies are, at their core, akin to monster movies. While many monster movies reach their closing credits without showing a single moment of the monster, most have a point where the audience's imagination is met with the director's imagination, and all the fear is replaced with knowledge. This is a point of entry where viewers are finally shown the beast, and it's an easy thing to mess up. It's really got a lot to do with luck and, for the most part, What We Become gets very lucky.


 
The zombies are pretty intense at first, lumbering through the streets. The film takes a complete 180, though, once their hideous faces are shown, and it's surprising to see how they are fairly different in how they approach their prey than many other zombies from cinema past. Sadly, in the final moments of the film, they become cartoonish, smiling at the prospect of biting one of the heroes. One zombie's death is almost laughable, and could have come with its own zany sound effects. Couple this with what appears to be the zombies' weakness, which turns the zombies into children with short attention spans, and on the whole, they fail to be as scary as they were when first introduced.

Despite all of this, What We Become does have some merit. It, like most of its brethren, showcases that when the chips are down, humans turn into savages. However, it never seems truly committed to giving the real showcase, instead making characters like neighbour Anna perpetuate the idea that "some spoiled brat will do everything to survive." It's not that the notion is without justification; it's that it's been done before.

What We Become is beautifully shot, however. Director Bo Mikkelson uses the camera to brilliantly highlight shots of zombies gathering around a street lamp, keeping them obscured and mysterious, despite being right in the heroes' faces. The jump scares are underwhelming, although one works surprisingly well at catching you off guard.

All in all, What We Become is an easily watched film that perhaps those who don't like horror could tolerate. It does a good job at setting up tension, but it never lets that tension pay off. In the end, the beautiful cinematography doesn't manage to make up for the lacklustre writing, poorly fleshed out characters, and the underwhelming zombies. Top this all off with a confusing, clearly setting up a sequel ending, and what do you have? A film that you should watch, but that you're very likely to forget.

4/10
Rated 4 out of 10

Subpar

At its best, What We Become manages to set up some very tense moments, only to fail to give the audience any real pay-off. It's a fail experiment only saved by the Director's brilliant use of the space he's been provided. Beyond that, What We Become fails to do anything new, and manages to do little with what's already been done.

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