I know, I know. Zombies have been done to undeath. But that’s the whole point. Zombies will never die! So I will keep watching every zombie movie that stumbles across my path, because there’s usually always some sort of cheap zombie thrill to be had even in the worst of them. And occasionally, a film rises above the horde for one reason or another. In the case of Locked Away, there are a variety of reasons.
Director Jason Morisette manages to do it all. In keeping with the character-centric trend in modern zombie celluloid, he tells a family-focused story with a distinct character study that throws an emotional punch. He offers a flashback feel to classic 1970s horror and zombie films both American and Euro, but also detours temporarily into the bizarr-o zone of 1980s midnight movies. He builds tension and atmosphere, yet also hits hard with zombie action, scares, and gore.
The creep factor grabs hold right from the start and creates that unnerving sense of dread that 1970s horror did by letting you know something really bad is up…without letting you actually see what that something is. All we know is that someone is keeping something in a shed. Man, I hate when someone keeps something in a shed.
We then meet a young military man home from the war. Because he’s returning to his rustic, rural small town, the film manages to be almost timeless – the war in which he was serving could as easily be Vietnam as Iraq. The family dynamic is a mess: caring mom but dick dad; his girlfriend is like part of the family even though his relationship with her is strained; and his little brother is kind of distant because he went off and joined the army.
It’s when the little brother leaves to go meet a friend that the nightmare begins. This friend wants to show him something he discovered…in a shed.
Oh fuck. Every zombie plague has to begin somewhere, right?
The entire film focuses on this one family as the older brother tries to keep them safe within the confines of their small town. A strange hack of a scientist gives them shelter…but has also been studying the zombies to see what makes them tick.
Adding to the character development, there’s an awkward reunion with a high school buddy of the older brother.
The final act brings on the zombie action and doesn’t let up. It begins with a bone-chilling encounter when a zombie invades the space in which the group is sleeping.
Then there’s a heartbreaking scene in which the older brother has to make a decision that we’ve seen countless times in zombie films, but the characters’ responses to it this time are so different and raw as hell. It almost feels as if this film was shot sequentially, because the performances of the unknown actors go from quite stiff early on to much more natural, genuine, and fluid in the second half, as if they became more comfortable with each other, with the filmmaking process, and with the journey of their characters.
The final escape and battle will exhaust you almost as much as I imagine it did the actors. The younger brother is hurt, so the older brother is actually carrying him as they run from countless zombies through streets, into the woods, and up and down hills.
There’s something incredibly realistic about this entire flight scene in terms of the physical toll it takes on the people and their nonstop, instinctual responses to everything that is happening.
It is draining to watch, and it just keeps getting worse, leading to a relentless onslaught of zombies in an enclosed space. I think even Edward Furlong snuck onto set hoping to play a zombie…
Then comes the fucking zombie from hell. When it showed up on the scene, I pretty much made the same exact face as the main guy…
Even so, the chaos doesn’t distract from the connection you feel with the main character in his undying need to protect the family that has essentially elevated him to the status of superhero. I’m seriously hoping Locked Away gets a DVD or Blu release, because it’s a must-have for my collection.