Welcome to Peacock Island. Welcome to its idyllic gated community with a golf course that remains operational year-round thanks to its chemically treated greens and fairways. Welcome to the horror of eco-revenge as an intelligent molecule infiltrates the water supply and mutates the residents into grass-based infected with the predatory attributes of lions crossed with moss.
Julien Knafo’s well-meaning and charming Zom-com has an admittedly wide-ranging armoury of social commentary subtexts.
Pandemic mismanagement, the protection bubbles of privilege, and the vulnerability of isolation. The obsession with technology in the young, family devotion and enforced responsibility, and the ongoing lack of human kindness fueled by far-right belief systems. The ethics of collateral damage, the destructive consequences of entitlement, and ultimately, the inevitable domino effect that follows flipping the bird to mother nature.
Thematically, Brain Freeze is as rich as any classic Romero picture. However, its problems lie in its lack of tangible bite as a Zombie movie. In terms of genre, satirical elegance and contemporary humor do not have to ride tandem with manic flesh chomping to be effective.
However, Knafo’s film sets the marauding hordes up as the primary source of narrative drive, and despite a couple of memorable set-pieces, this approach proves frustratingly unfulfilling. The isolated pockets of gory action feel a little like genre expectation placation rather than a full-blooded assault on the senses. At times, it seems almost as if the film is compelled to pay a tribute tax in order to air its worthy agenda.
Far too often the fight for survival feels flat and static or overreaching with digital effects, cheesy flamethrowers being the main offenders, detaches us from the hard-earned world-building and deftly drawn characters. One couldn’t help wishing the visual reserves had been re-routed in the direction of a muster of bitey zombie peacocks.
Without a doubt, these foilings are in part budgetary-based, but the responsibility lies with the filmmakers to maximise resources and chasten overambition. Not with the audience to rein in their expectancy.
That being said, Brain Freeze has enough ideas and conviction to remain entertaining and resists the urge to descend into crass gross-out titillation and low-brow slapstick pastiche. Except for an ill-advised sashay into Baby’s Day Out territory.
The performances are dedicated and well-pitched, difficult to pull off within a horror-comedy, and the interactional dynamics are believable and empathetically rendered. Roy Dupuis is excellent as hangdog amateur survivalist Dan, as is Iani Bédard as André the introspective teen who stumbles under his grizzly wing.
Also superb is Simon-Olivier Fecteau as salty talk radio jock Patrick Nault. The callous anthesis of LBC’S James O’Brien, his snowflake melting diatribe juxtaposes the film’s progressive coda and amplifies its ethical resonance.
Clean and crisp, the cinematography by Marc Simpson- Threlford is inventive and surprisingly expansive. Creative lensing and spectacularly sweeping establishing shots combined with evocative lighting give Brain Freeze a stylish sheen beyond its fiscal boundaries.
What could have been an extrapolated Québécois in-joke is translated coherently into universal concerns and the movie should play well outside of its world premiere on home turf. I have seen far more compromised productions than this thrive in the open waters of undead fandom.
As an ecological mirror held up to the grim visage of Covid, Brain Freeze is hard to fault. Equally, as a testament to the promotion of openness and humanistic hope, it seems churlish to be overly critical of its execution. Yet, as a genre picture, it is too flawed and flaccid to be as impactful as it strives to be.
If you love deadpan comedy and reflective social sideswipes in your Zombie flicks, then you should seek out the unique perspective and warm heart of Brain Freeze.
World Premiere Fantasia Film Festival 2021
Thu August 05, 2021, 6:30 PM – Cinéma Impérial
Mon August 09, 2021, 7:30 PM – Virtual Screening
Zombie Horror, Black Comedy, Family Drama | Canada, Quebec | 2021 | 93 mins | Palomar Films |In Theaters October 29th, 2021 | Dir. Julien Knafo | Cast: Iani Bédard, Roy Dupuis, Marianne Fortier