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The Horde

French writers/directors Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher offer an ingenious setup for this otherwise familiar zombie flick.

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The Horde

IFC Midnight

Credit where it’s due: French writers/directors Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher at least offer an ingenious setup for this otherwise familiar zombie flick. A tight-knit group of cops decides to take matters into their own hands when one of their own is killed by a criminal gang led by the ruthless Nigerian Ade (the great French character actor Eriq Ebouaney, better known in America for his work in art-house fare such as Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum, Chan-wook Park’s Thirst, and—as the titular Congolese leader—in director Raoul Peck’s 2000 biopic Lumumba). And so Ouessem (Jean-Pierre Martins), Aurore (Claude Perron), and two other cops put on their best covert hoods, gear up, and stealthily infiltrate Ade’s hideout, in a derelict high-rise in a dodgy part of an unnamed French city. The building is barely inhabitable, with only a few tenants and a shotgun-toting super who voices the movie’s central quasi-theme: You have to fend for yourself when the bourgeoisie has pushed everybody else aside.

That’s one of the few concessions to the outside world that The Horde makes, but its grim, angry tone is perfectly in sync with this grim, angry movie. These rogue cops’ raid goes horribly awry and they find themselves captives to Ade, his brother Bola (Doudou Masta), a cocaine-snorting thug named Jimenez (Aurélien Recoing), and some random, tweaking Czech muscle. The plan: torture and kill these pigs. The problem: For some reason the entire city appears to have been taken over by zombies of the fast-running, superhuman strength variety.

And so this boilerplate criminal revenge saga becomes a boilerplate undead horror movie inside 15 minutes, with the little twist of making thugs and coppers band together if they want to escape the high-rise intact. What makes The Horde a little more than just another gore-filled, violent zombie-killing movie—and, rest assured, it is very much a gore-filled, violent zombie-killing movie—is the unrelenting bleakness that runs through it. Even in the post-28 Days Later . . . world where other humans become just as much a dehumanized evil as whatever metaphor the undead swarms might convey, some shred of humanity remains among the survivors, and that thread can feel like the reason human survival is worth defending. The Horde’s survivors come from opposite ends of the so-called social contract—those who defend law and order and those who violate it—and yet they both retreat to every-man-for-himself individualism.

It makes for an at times harrowing experience. One man, bitten and aware of his inevitable fate, decides to fend off the masses while the others flee. This act of conventional heroism becomes an image of absolute futility, as he stands atop a car emptying a shotgun, then a pistol, and finally wielding nothing but a machete and his fists at a never-ending sea of hungry arms and mouths. Things only go downhill from there.

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