A striking monochrome pre-credits sequence based in an Army research lab shows Dr Richter (Jack Orend), an aged scientist, addressing the camera to tell all about a new chemical that he's developed. But as he injects the bright green serum into the arm of a willing soldier, the test subject swiftly transforms into a flesh-eating zombie and Richter's transmission ends abruptly.
Shortly afterwards, Richter labels the remaining barrels of his serum - of which there are many - as "bulk infant formula" and has them trucked off to be dumped in a water sanctuary. However, they never make it that far: the lorry transporting the barrels overturns and the chemicals spill out towards a nearby bowling alley.
Inside the bowling alley, we meet wet blanket Timmy (Michael Terry). Timmy's the alley's assistant manager and has been left in charge for the night, in the absence of boss Mr Whicks (Tracey Walter). Which means Timmy's got his friends there with him for company: wisecracking dropout Mike (Matthew Davis), cute but ditzy blonde Cindy (Betsy Beutler) and her bookish brunette pal Vanessa (Julianna Robinson).
While preparing ice creams for the girls, Timmy confides in Mike that he has a crush on Cindy but is too shy to act upon it. Mike encourages Timmy to make a move. Unfortunately, the green glow on the ice cream clues in on what's about to happen. Sure enough, seconds after the four youngsters have taken their first slurp of ice cream, they crumble to the floor moaning in pain. Moments later, they rise and are unwittingly contaminated ... they don't know it, but they are now zombies!
Unable to use telephones because of the weird interference they hear down the line, the quartet run panicking into the street - and are alarmed to find people screaming and fleeing from them.
By this time Timmy and his friends are understandably freaked out. Why are people running from them? Why can't they get hurt? Why is Cindy exhibiting signs of super strength? Armed forces man Nick (Colby French) then turns up out of the blue offering to take them to safety, while keeping the nature of their "infection" close to his chest.
Nick takes Timmy and co to a bar where, after a brief altercation with startled drinkers that ends with Mike's hand being dismembered and several 'mortals' losing their lives, he begins to reveal more about the secret army formula that has infected each of them, including himself. He warns them about how their condition will worsen and advises on how they are no longer wanted by the outside world - they are now considered as the enemy. It's here that Mike gets a first taste of human brains too - which he quickly becomes addicted to.
From there, the group follow Nick through the city and a series of bizarre episodes as they try to find a solution to their infection. All the while, the foursome are too dumb to realise that it is they that are infected; they believe the world has gone mad, and that they are the only 'normal' people left.
Ultimately the hi-jinks lead back to a latter half that employs the bowling alley to good effect, in a film that is occasionally clever and agreeably amusing.
WASTING AWAY often feels like a 50's sci-fi/horror homage, taking the cheap B-movie look and feel and running with it, peppering it with some smart verbal gags along the way. More contemporary influences are also evident - the glowing green serum that zombifies it's subjects is a clear RE-ANIMATOR reference; huge portions of the military sub-plot feel terribly similar to the superior PLANET TERROR.
Although the film boasts some decent gore and so-so zombie FX (the group only resemble zombies when seen from the perspective of the cowering general public), and has a few tense moments littered throughout, WASTING AWAY is very definitely first and foremost a comedy.
From the offset, it's clear that this is silly stuff: the animated opening credits begin with a quirky collage suggesting that man will eventually evolve into the living dead (or perhaps this is social commentary, suggesting that we already have become zombies?); the early script is rife with crude sex gags and characters behaving dumb to an almost farcical extent; the group discovering the powers and drawbacks of their afflictions are very much played for laughs rather than terror (Mike's aforementioned penchant for brains, and his friends' disapproving reaction to it); speeded-up fight sequences; Vanessa being more concerned about getting home in time to attend a job interview the following morning; a confrontation with regular bowlers that leads to the zombies getting their opponents pissed up.
The balance between horror and humour is notoriously difficult to get right. There are very few examples of it done well - AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, FRIGHT NIGHT, CREEPSHOW and THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD are five films from the 1980s that achieve that balance better than most. And WASTING AWAY, while not as stylish or compelling as any of the aforementioned, approaches their sense of balance. In fact, had this been made and released in the 1980s, I'd wager that it would be something of a cult hit by now.
As it stands, this film is dated in style and humour, while not offering enough visceral or emotional content to connect on a deeper level. It's superficial, and not smart enough to compete with this decade's much more sophisticated SHAUN OF THE DEAD.
The main conceit of the zombies not realising they are undead is a good one, but it soon becomes the film's sole gag. And it's not enough. The fact that the film is black-and-white when seen through the eyes of the uninfected, but turns to colour whenever we're following Timmy and co, is another nice gimmick from writer-director Matthew Kohnen. But a gimmick is all that it is. And a gimmick does not make a film.
Harmless, enjoyable and deliberately acted in an excitable manner, I don't mean to be too harsh on WASTING AWAY. It's not offensive and sometimes very funny. But the simple plot has nowhere to go, and the characters never truly engage - even when romance does blossom between Cindy and Timmy.
Still, go into it with no other expectations than using it as a way to enjoy 90 minutes where you don't have to think and may get the odd giggle, and it serves it's purpose. It just feels like it's been made 20 years too late.
The film is presented uncut in it's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and looks very good, with bright, pin-sharp monochrome visuals for the early scenes and bold, dazzling colours in the later scenes.
English 2.0 audio serves the film extremely well too, with a good balance of loud and clear playback.
The film is graced with 21 chapters. There are no extras on the disc.
A basic DVD from Spirit Entertainment Ltd for a flawed but fun film, WASTING AWAY is no SHAUN OF THE DEAD but is more likeable than BOY EATS GIRL.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Spirit Entertainment Ltd|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|