“What We Become” Muddles the Zombie Narrative

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Image via besthorrormovielist.com

By Sydney Rappis, Staff Writer

Zombies are frightening: they have an unquenchable and inexplicably animalistic desire for blood and guts that makes them monsters in human skin. There’s plenty of literature that explores this field: “Night of the Living Dead”, “I Am Legend,” “The Walking Dead”, “Dead Snow”. Zombies as an impending monster is nothing new.

“What We Become” (also known by it’s original title “Sorgenfri”) is the film industry’s latest attempt at a zombie narrative, although this time it’s coming not from the United States, but from Denmark. It’s clear writer-director Bo Mikkelsen has a firm grasp on Danish small-town living, as the protagonists, a family of four, are portrayed both realistically and honestly in the beginning of the film. They bicker, drink, and discuss plans for their summer vacation. The film starts off on a calm note and quickly establishes the budding romance between eldest son Gustav (Benjamin Engell) and his new next-door-neighbor Sonja (Marie Hammer Bonja). Unfortunately, it’s not until twenty minutes into the film that news footage is played in the background hinting at a spreading “flu” virus and advising residents on how to properly wash their hands. It’s the introduction of the zombie virus that takes small-town living and turns it on its head.

From then on, the film is a hot mess of masked government officials quarantining houses by covering them completely in black tarps, the family bickering about the best course of action, and the occasional off-camera zombie sound effects. None of the family members, save for Gustav, seem especially concerned about the impending apocalypse, and it becomes clear later that the only reason Gustav was so gung-ho about breaking out of confinement was to get into Sonja’s pants. Luckily, as fate would have it, when Sonja’s father gets “sick” and attacks her mother, the children end up living with the Johansson family — allowing Gustav to make his move. Throughout the film, mysterious government officials mostly just point guns at the healthy residents and deliver jugs of water upon occasion. It’s unclear whether the film is a commentary on the Danish government, the dangers of teen sex, or the dramatic mirroring of the lack of commitment within a family unit.

While a few of the special effects were used tastefully, like the mysterious strands of meat hanging off a pair of windshield wipers of a car, most of the moments of high tension were painfully cheesy. A knife through your mother’s eye needs a delicate touch, and unfortunately this eyeball was penetrated with a clumsy fist covered in blatantly fake blood. Since most of the action takes place off-camera, the zombie mythology itself is never truly developed. The monsters themselves have only a few moments of gloriously black-slimed on-camera time. Not one of the uninfected characters seems interested in discovering the source of the virus, and so the point of the film remains in an uncomfortable limbo state as the neighbors try to decide what to do about the degradation of society.

The climax of the film leaves the viewer mostly just confused, and disappointingly unmoved by the story of one family’s struggle for survival in a zombie filled Denmark. Despite being generally well acted, the plot was so familiar and predictable that no suspense is ever really achieved. For a viewer looking for a Danish zombie movie, this is it –  but if you’re looking for anything more than that, perhaps it would be better to stick to the classics.

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