Zombies? Again? Since their mid-00s renaissance, zombies have been everywhere: movies, videogames, television – even bestselling books. This ubiquity means that damn near every piece of zombie media comes with a ‘twist’ on the idea: zombie period drama, zombie Westerns. zombie romantic comedy etc. What We Become’s ‘twist’ is that it’s set in Denmark.
Danish cinema is usually associated 90s ‘Dogme 95 collective’; hard-nosed taboo-busting dramas served with lashings of awkward sex and dark comedy. What We Become is an attempt to step away from that and prove that Denmark too can put together a decent genre flick. Turns out they can, but that’s about all they’ve done.
Set in an everytown Danish suburb, we watch the Johansson family try to cope with a mysterious epidemic. Friendly neighbourhood picnics are stubbed out by gas mask wearing riot cops who seal the scared householders inside their homes with plastic wrap. Trapped indoors, the families hear distant sounds of gunfire and muffled groans from the outside world, and rumours of dead bodies mysteriously disappearing from their final resting places.
What We Become plays the zombie card oddly close to its chest, as if the eventual appearance of the shambling undead is some kind of big reveal. It isn’t – you’d have to be pretty cinematically illiterate not to pick up what’s going on right from the first act. When they finally do shuffle onscreen, though, they arrive with few surprises – these are classic ‘Romero’ brand zombies, with all the attendant properties you’d expect.
I’m not saying ‘classic zombie’ can’t be the bedrock for an interesting narrative, but in 2015 their threat, scariness and symbolic power are all extremely diluted. But What We Become doesn’t even offer anything interesting, the story constructed from bits of other, better, movies. Characters are two-dimensional cut-outs whose fates you can see coming a mile off and in the final act all sense of character development is abandoned in favour of aimlessly running around outside trying not to get bitten. These scenes, with pursuits through suburban back yards, begin to feel disconcertingly like Shaun of the Dead – but played straight.
It got to the point that the film felt so familiar and predictable that I assumed it was a set-up for some genre-defying twist – maybe the zombies are actors, maybe this is all a dream, maybe they’re in a video game – something utterly off the wall. But it was not to be, sadly this is just a predictable by the numbers trad-zombie snoozer.
The thing is that What We Become isn’t a crushingly bad trad-zombie film; performances are all okay, it’s shot reasonably well and, for a brief couple of minutes, has a nice synth score. It’s just that there are so many films that not only cover the exact same ground but do it with bucketloads of style. Traditionally the zombie B-movie is a chance for a young, visually minded director to showcase their skills; Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead or even Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake.
Bo Mikkelson is in somewhat similar shoes, this being his feature film debut after having made a name for himself with short films. Yet there’s precious little directorial panache on display; rather a slavish devotion to emulate Romero’s tone with only a modicum of his social commentary
Ultimately, this feels like an attempt to prove that Denmark can do zombie horror as well as anyone else. Apparently they can: this is a workable, bland, cinematic experience. What’s lacking is ambition and originality – if you’ve seen a handful of zombie films in the last decade or so, then you’ve already seen What We Become.
Formulaic and totally lacking in surprises, if you've seen any zombie movie from the past 5 years, then you've pretty much already seen What We Become.