Is it OK to ally with fascists during a (localised) zombie apocalypse? That is today’s moral conundrum brought to you by the Spanish film Valley of the Dead (the Spanish title Malnazidos sounds cooler though).
I’ve seen Korean train zombies, Korean school zombies, British remake of Day of the Triffids zombies, Korean historical zombies, Las Vegas Casino zombies and WW2 zombies. Today’s spin on the genre is Spanish Civil War zombies.
In the movie’s opening scenes, we see German Nazis engaged in murderous acts in a Spanish village. So it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the film’s basic premise is Nazis, trying out a superweapon in the Spanish countryside, create a zombie horde. However, before we meet any Nazis, we get to meet the main protagonist.
Jan (Miki Esparbé) is a liberal-minded ex-lawyer turned officer in the forces of General Franco. It is late in the bloody Spanish Civil War and Franco is close to victory against the disparate Republican alliance. Jan’s immediate problem is a firing squad intent on killing him for head-butting a judge who was also Franco’s cousin. The point being, that while the central character is on the wrong (but winning) side of history, he’s not a very fascist guy notwithstanding that he is an officer in a fascist army.
The tone of the film at this point is darkly comedic. Jan is caught up in the absurdity of war and his attempts to hold on to basic decency have only led him into trouble. He’s rescued by his own family connections and given a choice: instead of a firing squad, he can deliver a message across no man’s land to another unit of Franco’s army. As Jan can’t drive, he’s given a young soldier as a driver who was scheduled to be shot for desertion.
Inevitably Jan and his driver find themselves captured by a small group of Republican fighters. Then…the zombies show up.
It’s a silly, zombie thriller with an engaging cast and often beautiful scenery. The Spanish Civil War setting is an interesting one but there’s no deep or complex political element here. If the zombies serve as a metaphor for anything it is the civilian cost of war but mainly the setting serves to create an inherently conflicted set of survivors fleeing from the undead. Unlike most zombie survival groups, the characters are well-armed and experienced fighters. On the way, the rag-tag group gains a shotgun wielding nun, and a few more lost Nationalists (including a Muslim sniper) while losing others to zombies, Nazis and Nazi-zombies.
Inevitably, there’s a big why-can’t-we-just-all-get-along message to the film as the group have to get past their political, partisan and theological differences to survive. It’s a zombie shoot-em-up (apparently, literally in that there’s a PS4 game based on the same book) so don’t expect Homage to Catalonia With Zombies. There are explosions, besieged farmhouses, noble sacrifices, oh-no-I’ve-been-bitten moments and an evil Nazi with an evil Nazi plan. There’s a much less evil Communist political officer also, and a suggestion that Stalin is working on a zombiefication gas also, presumably for balance, which you mind find either annoying or plausible in a world where zombiefication weapons were a thing in the lead-up to WW2. Accept the premise and by implication, there would be a US-led zombie Manhatten project going on off-screen as well.
Different but not very different. Nice cast, badass leftists, standard zombie beats, muddled politics, explosions.