Portrait Of A Zombie

Portrait Of A Zombie


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Bing Bailey’s Portrait Of A Zombie adds another comical and gruesome mockumentary effort to the zombie genre. The requisite staples are undead and present and while tasty chutzpah abounds, ultimately the film doesn’t deliver a totally satisfying meal.

The opening credits flit across darkened newspaper articles to reveal that there has been an infectious outbreak of sorts, leading to some social disturbance and possibly deaths. The camera then approaches a middle-aged Danny Murphy (Rory Mullen) and an out-of-shot voice asks if he could talk about the events of last year. Reluctant and angry at first, Billy starts to comment on what happened to his adult son, Billy (Patrick Murphy).

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We flashback to footage from another documentary being shot by a narcissistic and opportunistic American director (Todd Fletcher). He’s heard that the Irish working-class Murphy family are trying to hold things together while they look after Billy at home - who’s now a snarling zombie, kept in a muzzle and straitjacket. Potential doc gold for the filmmaker while a very real concern for the close-knit and opinionated community who live around them.

Interviews with the neighbours are added to those with the Murphy family, which revolves around Geraldine McAlinden’s stirling matriarch Lizzy. We learn that hardworking Billy had been recently promoted at the local meat factory when he fell ill (“‘the future is meat,’ he used to say”), around the time that his girlfriend (Diane Jennings) became pregnant. Not only does she want to stand by Billy as his family do, she also wants the local Catholic priest to marry them.

McAlinden’s committed mother Murphy is the standout among the other performances, mostly game, some shaky. Her and Danny’s devotion to Billy powers them against the various forces that would compel them to abandon their son, or kill him. It also leads to one of the film’s more horrific moments. While the roaming zombies are the usual lurching lunchers, McAlinden’s and one other scene deliver the roughest stuff. Here Bailey slows the pace down to linger on the fleshy grimness for the fans.

Unfortunately, much on the rotten nose dialogue, although maybe with tongue in fetid cheek at times, periodically puts the brakes on. This either distracts from the social commentaries that Bailey’s script juggles or puts them too front and centre. It’s noted that armed criminal gangs have become “temporary heroes” as they go about taking out zombies to reclaim the streets down which they used to be the most frightening thing that wandered. Eventually, they’re confronted by a mother’s love for her son, but working class family values, pitchforked community rule and the Church all come into Bailey’s sights.

I found it frustrating that the direction continually flitted from one documentary to the restricted view of the main crew’s sole camera, to another’s omniscient narrative viewpoint, to talking head interviews and then to flashbacks and back again. While this is essentially an anarchic comedy, this approach fundamentally messes with any would-be documentary set-up and confuses the narrative point of view. American Zombie or straighter horrors Diary Of The Dead and [Rec] use the ‘this is real’ format to much better effect.

To this end, it’s not clear who or what this Portrait is actually of. Anyone with a zealous belief or commitment to something, be it crime, power, faith, belief, conformity or familial love, gets critiqued. The approach also undermines the portrayal of the crew, as their unprofessional involvement starts to manipulate events, whereas a cutting satire such as Man Bites Dog fully exposed this. If of anyone, perhaps the Portrait is of the self-seeking film director whose moral compass seems most nulled.

His beleaguered production assistant’s caustic commentary on the filmmaking process might support this. This and some choice faux pas from the talking heads raise a smile. The scattergun approach does also lead to some amusing excerpts such as discussing Christianity, zombie human rights, and a vegetarian campaigner looking to influence them to eat more ethically (knowing nods to the rising of Christ references, said American Zombie and Rising Up: The Story Of The Zombie Rights Movement).

Bailey uses a RED 4k camera to get some effective, cinematic shots. This may look good, but again doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the fast and ready style his set up would have the audience buy into. It does help his low budget Portrait provide far better production values than the likes of Colin but, as perhaps with that nil budget piece, this might ultimately remain one only for genre fan tick lists.

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2012
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Portrait Of A Zombie packshot
A family is ostracised by the local community after deciding to care for a son who has become a zombie, whilst his pregnant girlfriend still hopes the local priest will marry them.
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Director: Bing Bailey

Writer: Bing Bailey, Laura Morand Bailey

Starring: Geraldine McAlinden, Rory Mullen, Todd Fletcher, Patrick Murphy, Steven Neeson, Sara Eavan, Diane Jennings, Ciaran Davies, Diane Jennings, Simon Fogarty, Paul O’Bryan, Diane Jennings, Gerry Shanahan

Year: 2012

Runtime: 126 minutes

Country: Ireland


Raindance 2012

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