The Dead Rising video game series gets its first stint on the silver screen in Dead Rising: Watchtower -from Leprechaun Origins director, Zach Lipovsky – who along with screenwriter Tim Carter manages to re-inject some fun back into the zombie film.
After government sanctioned zombie resistance drugs fail, a quarantined zone gets overrun with the virus. Reporter Chase (Jesse Metcalfe) and several survivors attempt to survive while military plans to firebomb the infected zone loom closer.
In a world plagued with overtly serious takes on the zombie subgenre – a result of The Walking Dead’s massive success – Lipovsky and Carter manage to tap into what made the Dead Rising games so special – by bringing some fun back to the fold. There is a welcome silliness in many of the well-crafted set pieces – from early scenes of Chase attacked by a zombified clown to more ambitious moments like an escape from a surrounded pawn shop, where our protagonists are forced to use everything around them as weapons. Lipovsky’s film also has a gory streak that will satisfy the hardest of genre fans, plus some well executed tension (particularly in the opening scenes at the quarantine centre).
Carter’s narrative balances the buoyant entertainment with a more-serious streak, however. Through its government conspiracy angle, Watchtower adds a clammy sense of paranoia to the fold – particularly as Chase’s colleague Jordan (an excellent Keegan Connor Tracy) operates from within the military base. This conspiracy angle doesn’t break the new ground that it appears to suggest and actually takes Watchtower down a slightly more clichéd route. This never actually harms the entertainment factor of the film as it is orchestrated with some strong moments of tension, albeit adding to the slightly overlong runtime.
Metcalfe makes a likeable lead and doesn’t play the role like a straight-forward action hero. This aspiring reporter makes a refreshing protagonist as he’s not trained to battle hordes of zombies and is forced to take such encounters in his stride. There’s an infectious charm and a well handled sense of humour in Metcalfe’s engaging lead performance. Meghan Ory impresses as Crystal, a headstrong survivor conflicted by the virus spreading through her, whilst Virginia Madsen adds some compassion to the proceedings in a supporting role as a grieving mother.
Scenes featuring Rob Riggle as video game favourite Frank West bring a raucous humour to the fold – particularly in the no holds barred style interview sequences that he’s utilised in. Riggle’s undisputable comic chops are put to full use as he bluntly describes how to survive a zombie attack to increasingly-frustrated newsreader Susan (Carrie Genzel).
Dead Rising: Watchtower is a welcome slice of escapist fun that reminds us zombies CAN be fun.