When watching 'The Horde' (also known as 'La Horde'), I couldn't help but focus on some of the glaring flaws in logic that determine the course of the film. It's hard to miss some of the problems found in this foreign zombie outbreak feature. 'The Horde' trips and falls on its own feet so much that it can't outrun even the slowest of shambling undead creatures, let alone the somewhat speedy, trippy freaks found in its own confines. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, as this is the first full length feature credit for either member of its directing tandem, who each did only one or two short flicks before this nihilistic full length feature.
Now, for all of the shortcomings of 'The Horde,' there are as many, if not more, amazing strengths to be found in the 97 minute runtime, as this is actually a solid, enjoyable film, despite all its issues. There are so many memorable scenes, as well as unique characters, blazingly unique death sequences, and a perfect air of impending doom, it's hard to not feel good about the film as a whole. Frustrating at times, ingenious in others, 'The Horde' is most definitely a unique take on the zombie apocalypse that has become such a big fad in recent years.
After mourning the death of a partner in the morning, laying their friend to rest, a group of cops seeking vengeance outside the law raid a condemned housing structure, looking to take down Markudis (Eriq Ebouaney), a Nigerian leader of a drug and possibly weapon pushing gang. Their attempt at stealth assassination fails, but the death of yet another friend is the least of the cops concerns. The dead are rising, out of nowhere. Recently killed gangsters and innocents caught in the crossfire of between the feuding factions are just the first threat, as an army of the undead are storming the building. The cops now have to make friendly with the robbers, as tensions between survivors are thick, danger is around every dark corner, ajar door and creepy stairwell. There may be no escaping this Parisian slum alive.
'The Horde' is somewhat interesting, but a little bit formulaic in its opening, all the moments before hell is quite literally unleashed. We get the motivations for the raid, but we really don't care. Each side of the fence are too drastically black and white morally, and they only begin to be full, believable characters once they have to abandon their pretenses and positions and work together. What ensues is a film where anyone can die at any minute. A zombie can be around any corner, and they're quite difficult to dispatch. Betrayals ensue, as characters act as anyone would when facing the death of everyone they know and themselves head on. Selfishness and petty squabbling can take over, and distrust is behind nearly every word spoken. The tension, it's spot on. Atmosphere, this film has in abundance.
'The Horde' isn't a film where characters figure out exactly the best way to kill a zombie, and then stick to it. Rather, the survivors act scared shitless, and as such, logic doesn't win. Base instinct takes over, and we see a group of survivors much unlike anything envisioned by Romero. The random zombie attacks, be they waves of undead or just a few, they are all ridiculously dangerous, and are not dismissed. We see ridiculously long scenes where survivors fight for their lives, tooth and nail, punching, kicking, bashing, and shooting their assailants to their last breath, which can be a bit excessive, especially seeing a human punch a zombie in the face, knowing they can readily chomp and take off a piece of flesh in the process (which never happens). That isn't to say that the humans don't suffer great losses, though. They fall, and they fall hard...which may be 'The Horde''s greatest strength. Each and every death scene is unique, as is each fight, between groups of humans or humans versus the undead. Characters get wonderful moments "going out," as it were. When resigned to death, the idea of taking as many of those bastards with you doesn't seem so taboo. It becomes heroic.
Sadly, 'The Horde' is a bit overly convenient. The first wave of zombies are too few and far between, allowing the survivors to regroup and get their bearings, as the danger level continues to raise. The thing is, the real face palm moment of the film, there is quite literally a throng, a horde of zombies outside the building trying to get in, let alone those who already are. Out of nowhere. Within thirty or so minutes of the first real "resurrection." It isn't quite explained why they all gather at this decrepit building, when there's obviously a big city around it. The gun situation in the film is also a bit of poor writing, as a coup that leads to a few disarmed survivors doesn't quite have the disastrous results one would expect, as one survivor suddenly mentions, gee, there's a whole cache of weapons over this way! We're talking about a building that houses a murderous gang. If one guy knows about the closeted (not even thrown in safes!), ridiculously powerful weapons, you'd expect the thugs would have found them as well. Whoops.
Still, 'The Horde' is a solid flick, when you turn your brain off. The scenes where survivors, obviously losing their grip, begin torturing the dead ring out truthful through it all, as does the squabbling and delusional behavior. There is a constant state of dread, mostly due to the absolutely spectacular setting of the film, as this building (or group of buildings) used to make the film are the perfect setting for a creepy, tense, claustrophobic tale of survival. The acting is solid, characters aren't caricatures, and there's more than a few moments that alleviate the dread with a well placed comical line, interaction, or mannerism out of the blue. This is a painfully unique experience, a true zombie thriller that doesn't compromise its message for gag kills or statements. This is a film where you'll find men surrounded by hundreds of creatures with nowhere to go, as they're just inches away, clawing at their chance for a taste of flesh and blood, where even through the end of the world, humanity and all its flaws prevail through actions more than words.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Horde' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD50 disc from Alliance Entertainment out of Canada. There are reportedly two cuts of the film in existence, and this is the shorter version. All of the excised footage can be found in the extras, though, and it is doubtful that we'll see the slightly longer version, which does not add any zombie carnage or bloodshed whatsoever, from any other release. The menu for this film is bi-lingual, which may annoy some viewers, but it's trivial.
One can tell when watching 'The Horde' that the film isn't exactly high budget. It's also not filmed under the best conditions, with the majority of the film taking place in unlit hallways and dark corridors or rooms. Alliance's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, in the proper 2.35:1 (no cropping here!) makes the best of the situation. This film will never look five star quality, so it's really all a matter of if the issues are a big enough concern for potential buyers to stomach or force themselves to pass on.
On the bright side, detail levels can be absolutely astounding, with gorgeous close ups and mid level shots, some amazingly deep shots, splendidly appropriate skin tones due to the difficult lighting, and very little to no crush issues, even in situations that would bring the infinite black abyss to life. Black levels throughout the film are appropriate, from the cleaner, grain free shots, to the grittier, heavy grained moments. Sadly, the difficult lighting does wear thin after a while, artifacting can become a problem, while some errant lines get annoying as well,as the grit can add up to ridiculous measures that are impossible to ignore. Edge enhancement really isn't a major issue, as really only the final shot of the film is blatantly obvious, due to the drastic difference in lighting for it and the rest of the movie. I'm not saying it's not there the rest of the time, no sir. I'm just saying, if edge sharpening is employed in the rest of the film, it takes a nitpickier eye than my own to spot it, let alone be concerned with it.
"Turn it up, I can't hear!"
Alliance's release of 'The Horde' defaults to a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 French track, however, there are two flavors of lossless on tap for this release, with both French and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks at the ready. Since this Alliance release has extras, it also has a main menu, so it won't autoplay lossy unless you forget to change it.
However, even after you do go lossless, you'll find yourself wondering if everything is right on the disc. Simply put, this is one awful sounding release. With the French track, there's no wide range to speak of, absolutely no pop, no bass, no roar. You'll find yourself cranking the film to ridiculous volume levels just to hear dialogue. Fortunately, you won't be blown out of the water with freakishly loud booms. Unfortunately, that's because the entire film is weak. It's a shame, too. Directionality is proper, room dynamics are accurate, and there's a good amount of localization in the mix. It's just, prioritization doesn't exist, too much dialogue gets lost under the shuffle, and gunfire has to be the weakest of damn near any disc I've played on Blu-ray. No gun, no matter what caliber or type, from SMGs to pistols or shotguns, nothing has power. Nothing has pop. Shotguns make less noise than the blood splatter than follows. Gunfire in stairwells has no resonance, no echo, no enhanced dynamic pop. Nothing. This is just an ugly sound experience.
'The Horde' is most certainly not France's answer to 'rec].' It is, however, a very fun, very thrilling, fast paced struggle for survival, where the bad guys are as interesting as the good guys, and the zombies, they really don't care either way so long as they get to eat. The film misfires on a few plot points, but it doesn't preach like modern Romero, it doesn't have terrible gags like modern Romero, and it doesn't suck like modern Romero. The Blu-ray release out of Canada features good video, considering the source, bad, bad audio, and a couple of extras. Zombie fans must pick this one up, horror fans should give it a go, but this is not a title that transcends genre, so those not so much into scares and blood won't have much reason to give this one a chance.