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Web Waffle - Zombie With A Shotgun

TMW's Jason Abbey looks at this new web series and interviews its creator.

Directed by: Hilton Ariel Ruiz
Starring: Braeden Baade, Ian Griffith, Erzen Krivca, Lynnea Molone

With a title like 'Zombie With A Shotgun', you would expect Grindhouse grue and gore, with a side order of exploitative action. An undead take on 'Hobo With A Shotgun'. Perhaps a pastiche of those drive in classics with an updated sheen, seen through the prism of an internet fanboy's more fevered imagination.
It comes as a surprise and, if I'm being honest, a disappointment, that this is a very different beast. A contemplative Zombie Web Series dealing with Aaron (Baade) and Rachel (Molone) on the run in an undefined Zombie Apocalypse. We know that Aaron initially sans shotgun has been infected by the virus. He has yet to change. Is the power of love for Rachel and his need to protect her fending off the virus? Or will biology and Zombie instincts take over and turn her into a light al fresco lunch?
I'm not being opaque, it's just that so far there have only been three episodes (each running around five minutes) of a proposed eight, with the possibility of a film to follow.
Ruiz uses the short form well; he starts us in the middle of the action, hooking us in when the main character is already infected and penned in. It helps give a sense of immediacy and feeling that this is a director who knows how to tell a story visually.
The look of this series is probably its chief asset. His cast are adequate but photogenic and the color palette that cinematographer Matthew Adrian Gonzales uses is very impressive for what looks like a low budget production. Lots of red and green filters that are reminiscent of 'Creepshow' although without the cackling grand guignol sensibility.
Ruiz also makes good use of his limited location. There is a hemmed in sweaty claustrophobia that, along with the soundtrack, adds a pressure cooker quality to the situation. The elliptical editing and the occasionally disorientating flashbacks also add to the suspense.
All of this shows promise but it's by no means a triumph. That title is a real problem. I want to see Zombies and I want to see a shotgun used. This type of series needs gore and action and it feels like Ruiz spent his money on the look rather than the literal meat. Shootings are done off camera and there is a distinct lack of Zombies chowing down. Good taste is all well and good but when you are called 'Zombie With A Shotgun' you expect a little more bang, bang, slurp, slurp.
So far the pacing has been a little on the sedate side. With 5 episodes to go, there is no clear trajectory where this may be going. Although there was a nice riff on 'Alien 3', where the Zombie attacks Aaron only to stop when he realizes he is infected.
At this stage I can't say I'm hooked, but I am intrigued to see where it goes. Whether Ruiz understands the Zombie genre remains to be seen, the idea of a slow infection is intriguing but so far underdeveloped. Rachel has had little to do or shown any real character. With a bit more polish on the script and a bit more gore this could be interesting. The next five episodes will tell.
4/10(so far)


Interview with series creator Hilton Ariel Ruiz

What inspired you to be a film maker?

It had to be from living in the Lower East Side, believe it or not. Living here in the city. My Father would take me to a lot of places in Manhattan. In the eighties, there were so many things to see in Manhattan that were always intriguing; what people called those "New York Moments". That and the combination of going to a lot of films with the family. Every weekend we would go with the family to see a film in the theater.
I was watching a lot of horror films. My parents would go out to watch 'Friday the 13th'. Going to those movies, a lot of times not being approved for the age, it stood out a lot. A lot of those things stuck to my head. Oh my God, I used to be so scared and I was the youngest of the family. So I had to go and see more adult movies. I had to go.
Seeing these movies as a child it was just so much more of an experience than if I was an adult. Taking those experiences from horror and science fiction films I would take those more than the regular films aimed for my age group. I remember going home and just like thinking about those scenes, like if it was a horror film I would never want to go to sleep. it just stuck to my head.

How did you start out making short films?

So what happened was that my Mother bought me a camcorder around age 13-14. That's where I started to do these home videos with friends and it happens that the camera eventually broke as it had been used so many times. As I went through my teenage years a lot of people were asking me where my videos where, as I did such a good job, why don't I make more? When I was in my older years of high school, they offered Cinema courses, so I started there with Cinema and from there it skyrocketed. I knew this was what I wanted to do. I started taking courses here and there to learn more about the tools of film-making and I went off to do photography as well because they work together as tools for image making. I took that photography back into my film-making, using those skills to learn. A lot of it again happens to be that whole combination of just growing up experiencing these films and living in NYC which, in the eighties, was kind of a horror film itself.

Was it like being in The Warriors?

Yeah exactly, you couldn't walk nowhere. It was haunting.

Central Park was a no go area back then.

Yeah exactly. I mean now, believe it or not, you can walk anywhere in New York City and you're safe, which is like unbelievable compared to growing up in the eighties. And it's so funny 'cause a lot of people ask me “So Hilton what is the scariest movie you have ever seen?” and I say 'Death Wish' because that was scary, that's what NYC was all about. That was the scariest movie for me, seeing it when I was a child. Sometimes I watch it and it doesn't have the same effect as when I was a child but, looking at it, it brings back that rawness that the city had. I remember my Father going “you can't walk there, you can't go to that corner there. You have to stay here”.  You just had a certain area you were able to walk because of how dangerous it was and how raw it was. Those elements are what brought me to film-making. The movies that inspired me, such as Scorsese of course with 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull'.


Would you say though that the horror genre is the one constant in your love of film?

Oh yes of course it's always there. That and 'Blade Runner', mainly because it was so visually amazing.

I know it's like looking at a new world when you first see it. Just a really fully realized environment.

It was crazy. Even going back and watching the first 'Terminator', I was still so young watching that. Something about the rawness of the environment always creeped me out. That was what I really liked about them.

You haven't got that homogenized texture that a lot of modern films have now, because of CGI.

Absolutely

There are almost no limits to what you can do with your imagination, but old school film-making, with their grimy environments and SFX bring a certain old school reality that you don't get now.

That style is what got me into making films, that and just telling a good story.

Were you aware of 'Hobo With a Shotgun' when you came up with the title?

Yes. Absolutely. It was so funny because when we watched it I had a friend who was talking to me about the film and we just thought you know what would be cool, just having a Zombie running out with a freakin shotgun, and that's how the whole thing came out. From that it was - what if there were a film about a Zombie out there with a shotgun, oh man that would be so cool. You know what, it's so cool we just have to do it.

Because stylistically they are quite different, Hobo has that grindhouse mixed with Troma aesthetic to it.

Yes, absolutely. I didn't want to take it's grittiness. I wanted to come with my own interpretation of it. Of the Zombie films as we know them. This is out there trying to find a new angle.


What sensibility do you bring to the Zombie genre?

At the front it always has to be about Zombies, but to me the backdrop is the love story. The love story is more important than everything. I just wanted to have the two characters in the film. I wanted the two characters likable, that there was a sense these two people cared for each other. In the first episode I think you definitely feel that. Then of course bringing that whole Zombie-ness into it. They're basically there interfering with this love story I'm trying to tell. I felt that doing the Zombie film I didn't want to do what everyone else is doing. Like 'The Walking Dead' on TV.
In this I wanted someone progressively getting sick, something universal that we all go through with friends and family at some stage.

So a bit like a David Cronenberg film?

Yes, exactly. How do you react when someone is getting sicker, that was how I tried to picture this whole 'Zombie With a Shotgun' film. Of course, we are doing the episodes and in future hopefully bring it up to a feature length film in which I explain exactly the type of world that these characters live in.

Will the film be an expansion of the web series or follow on from the show?

It'll be expanded but it will also bring back the characters from the show. It will be more developed. I already have the script ready. I take it back to reintroduce the characters but bring in more of the environment they are in. Expanding the scope of it.

One of the things I liked about the web series was how well it was shot and the use of color. It was quite claustrophobic.

That came from studying photography. Having that whole set up and lighting scheme, wanting the colors to come out and, by using tight angles, we kept it hemmed in. I made sure that the lens we used was very tight. I then expand it more with the second episode, I bring out the wider lens.


How many episodes have you completed now?

We shot already six. The fourth one is coming out on 10th June 2013. I want to have them spaced. The ifth one should be edited in the next two weeks and then be done. The whole thing should be eight to nine episodes in total.

Are all the scripts done? Or do you have the story arc and develop it with each episode?

They're done. I take bits and pieces from the full length script and make a few twists and changes on it. Budget wise we don't really have the ability to realize what's in the feature script.

We Know the Zombies appeared now in the second and third episode, will there be any biting and moments of proper gore? Or are you aiming for more subtle shocks?

We are keeping some stuff back for the grand finale so it will be a build up of suspense before it goes all out. As the episodes progress people are going to see Aaron more Zombie-fied, getting to that stage when he's going to be a real Zombie with a shotgun.We want to see time and the disease taking it's toll. He will have more of a Zombie look than a human look. So by the end you see more gore and more of him as The Zombie With A Shotgun.

Visit www.zombiewithashotgun.com to check out the series.


Jason Abbey