Twitter Plot Summary: A bunch of survivors hole up in a Vegas casino when a nuclear blast turns folks into zombies. Lance Reddick shows up for 5 mins then leaves.
Based on the comic book from Steve Niles, the same man that gave us 30 Days of Night, Remains is set in Vegas during a zombie outbreak, an outbreak caused by at least one huge nuclear explosion that turns most of the population into flesh eating zombies. Much of the action takes place within a fictional casino in Vegas, and centres mostly around four main characters. Three of them – Tom (Grant Bowler), Tori (Evalena Marie) and Jensen (Miko Hughes) are employees of the casino in one way or another, saved from the effects of the nuclear blast thanks to their coincidental proximity to an emergency bunker at the moment when it all goes wrong. The fourth guy, a self centred chap by the name of Victor (Anthony Marks), is an outsider who we meet throwing another survivor to the undead so he can make a safe getaway. Instantly, you get the impression that he’s not going to be of much use to the remaining survivors.
Zombie films tend to live or die, so to speak, on the basis of their production values, amount of gore, choice of casting, the style of zombie (fast, slow, intelligent etc) and the method through which the outbreak occurs. Fans of the genre are very easy to forgive almost any mistake made provided at least one of these areas hits its intended target, so with this in mind I would say Remains manages to provide just enough entertainment value to be a step above most films in the zombie genre, but still a long way off the mark from the likes of much of George Romero’s zombie films or even Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake.
In this instance the main twist to the usual formula is that the zombies gradually grow less feral and more intelligent as time goes by, even preying on weaker zombies in a bid to be top dog. What it fails to do is make something of this plot point, saving any development for the final reel as if setting up a sequel rather than turning this idea into something special. This marks wasted opportunity number one. The second is in the characters themselves. They spend a lot of time sitting around not doing very much, which would otherwise be an opportunity to develop the characters and explore their inner thoughts, especially when the army arrives, led by Lance Reddick and accompanied by his medic daughter Cindy, played by Tawny Cypress.
A late development between Cindy and Tom isn’t handled particularly well, and provides a final act where the surviving character’s motivations are sadly obscured from the audience. This may have been the result of an edit for pacing reasons, but it would have benefited from just a little more depth as it’s a move that does require further explanation. It’s clear, meanwhile, that Reddick was only on set for a few days and is yet another example of a marquee name getting top billing despite only being present for around 10 minutes.
Rather fortunately, the special effects make up for any misgivings one might have about the direction of the story, as a nice use of practical and computer generated effects combine to good effect. There’s a few good moments for gorehounds, and the zombie makeup isn’t bad – much of it is improved by the white contact lenses worn by the zombie actors. But then at the back of your mind is a thought that won’t go away – that this is evidently a film adaptation of a comic book, and subsequently something of that original story has been lost in the act of translation.