Imagine a world where all children are born directly into a coma so you never have to hear them whine or cry. Sounds peaceful, right? But what if the drawback was that they suddenly all woke up from that comatose state at the same time, hungry for adult souls and looking sunken-eyed like Kristy Swanson in Wes Craven’s 1986 classic Deadly Friend? That would bite—even if these “zombie” children don’t do much biting.
Clive Barker’s The Plague is definitely a zombie/Children of the Corn/Village of the Damned hybrid. The opening scenes showing a hospital full of kids going into convulsive seizures before going comatose promises something pretty epic—and so does news that all children born thereafter are born directly into a coma and that the government is considering a ban on childbirth—which would mean a world with one less argument against gay sex! Anyway, as the story picks up ten years later, things are simplified, with the focus being on one broken family affected by the epidemic.
James Van Der Beek returns to Dawson’s Creek—I mean…the home of his ex-wife after a prison sentence. His nephew was one of the kiddies who fell into a coma a decade ago. But all the kiddies are about to wake up. It doesn’t take long for the kiddies, now mostly young adults, to wake and turn into running zombie-like enemies. James and his ex-brother-in-law rush to save his ex-wife, who works at the hospital—which is where a whole lot of the children have been sleeping for ten years.
As a fresh take on “zombies,” this plot really works for quite a while. There is plenty of classic zombie action, zombie sieges, and zombie suspense to be had. The hospital is for sure the strongest segment of the film—especially the fricking vent crawl scene. WHY? WHY VENTS? Vents are terrifying!!! There’s also an awesome tension-filled laundry chute scene that has a deliciously devilish little twist.
Anyway, the gang of survivors, which now includes a cop, the sheriff and his wife, played by none other than Dee Wallace, head into a local church, but not before a cringe-worthy leg snapping kiddie attack. Gnarly. The church is also the place where we start to get the cryptic religious references that are apparently the reason for the “just when you thought it was safe to go back to Toys R Us” plot.
As in all paint-by-numbers zombie-type films, one of our characters has to have the moral dilemma of seeing and accepting one of her own as a blood-loving enemy. This time, it’s Dee Wallace. I refuse to believe that the mom who took on a rabid St. Bernard, helped an ugly-cute alien get away from the government’s evil clutches, and exposed an entire secret colony of werewolves on live news would make the dumb move she makes in this film that leads to her role being no more than a glorified cameo. I guess the ultimate goal in casting her was just to get a familiar scream queen name in the credits.
It’s all kind of downhill without Dee. Hell, one character even blows his own brains out after losing her (I’m feeling his loss). The thin exposition attempting to explain the motives of the kiddies sucks any mindless zombie fun out of it. And so does the fact that these zombie kiddies are soon stockpiling guns and ammunition and chasing after our heroes with guns! RUINED. And the goofy sacrificial ending is worsened by an epilogue that seems to be going for a zinger through the use of a copy of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which was a shoe-horned reference earlier in the film. And finally—if this plague was happening worldwide, well then…what became of the rest of the world???