There's no doubt that Irish writer/director Conor McMahon has seen a lot of zombie films. He pays homage to things from the zooming camera effects of The Evil Dead to Lucio Fulcio's sick fascination with eyeballs, and the various ways of destroying them, to having a gravedigger be one of the heroes, a la Dellamorte Dellamore. The resulting dark zombie comedy shows a clear love and understanding of the genre. In this story, the zombie epidemic stems from rampant mad cow disease. And yes, there are actually rampaging cows. A lost tourist couple falls afoul of a zombie on the road, and the man is bitten, quickly succumbing. The woman is embroiled in a struggle for survival.
Dead Meat is firmly entrenched in Irish culture, shot completely in the Irish countryside and laden with Irish mannerisms and idioms. One of the characters, the crusty Coach Cathal Cheunt (Eoin Whelan), would probably have been practically incomprehensible to this yankee at some points if not for the subtitles I had going. Even then, I still had to parse out the idiomatic meaning.
While its Irish atmosphere made this movie unique, it may also have been one of its weaknesses. I wasn't quite sure whether it was this or perhaps McMahon's skills as a writer and filmmaker, but a lot of the humor missed the target with me. I recall a couple of times thinking, Oh, that was a joke! Early on, the film was lacking in those universal signals that indicate to the viewer that what they're watching should not be taken too seriously. I actually wasn't aware that I was watching a comedy until the gravedigger, Desmond (David Muyllaert), hurled his shovel at a zombie and pierced it clean through, blunt end first, and even then I wasn't sure. It was confirmed later, when another lead, Helena (Marián Araújo), dispatched a zombie using her spike-heeled shoe like a ninja throwing star.
The actors did a decent job, although I'm not sure the two main leads, Desmond and Helena, were right for comedy. They were a bit too low-key, and the arrival of Coach Cheunt and his wife Francie (Amy Redmond) brought much needed energy to the film. Cheunt is downright maniacal at times in his battle against the undead.
The effects were excellent. There was plenty of gore and lots of creative kills. The atmosphere was a little spotty, though. I think part of it may have been the lack of soundtrack, which would have helped build some suspense, but then Night of the Living Dead didn't have much of a soundtrack either. I think part of it too might have been the timing of the script, which sometimes dragged a bit. There was one scene which I both enjoyed and had to question: the survivors are sneaking through a field of sleeping zombies (who sleep on their feet, like cows), which I thought was really suspenseful, but this begs the question: Do zombies sleep? We could be talking about living zombies here, as in 28 Days Later, who are just people who have lost their minds. So then yes, they might sleep.
This is certainly a zombie film worth watching, although it's not without its flaws. If you're the type to appreciate a good low-budget effort, then give this one a look-see.