It seems fair to assume that we’re all a little burned out on zombie comedies. Shaun Of The Dead, of course, remains the high point for the subgenre, but the wave of average to subpar movies that followed showed that getting a zom-com right is harder than it looks.
Which is why Kyle Rankin’s Night Of The Living Deb is such a pleasant surprise. It’s very funny, it’s sweet, it’s got good zombie gags and very likeable characters. It’s such good fun that any scepticism of genre weariness is forgotten about within minutes.
Maria Thayer plays the titular character, who wakes up on the 4th of July after a one night stand with the very handsome Ryan (Michael Cassidy), feeling pretty good about everything. So it’s a bummer when, despite her best efforts, the uptight Ryan kicks her out, but her walk of shame takes her straight into the zombie apocalypse. Now, she and Ryan will have to put aside the awkwardness of the night before and find a way to get out of Portland, Maine with their flesh intact.
Rankin’s last film was 2009’s underrated creature feature Infestation, and he brings a similar wry, observational, oddball sense of humour to this. It moves at a welcome fast pace too. We’re about ten minutes in before the first flesh-eaters arrive, the characters accept the reality of their zombie-filled situation, and their attempts to dispose of them are hilariously plausible in their clumsiness (there’s a fantastic sequence involving an old lady and her lamp).
Crucially, the characters feel fresh, and a big part of that is that the stereotypical comedy gender dynamic is flipped. Ryan is the bore wrapped up in new age fads, while Deb is the schlubby, fun, wisecracking badass with a named car (Otis). Thayer is absolutely fantastic and her performance serves as a welcome reminder that she really should have bigger roles in more films.
There’s a great supporting cast too. The halfway point introduces Ray Wise and Chris Marquette as Ryan’s wealthy water mogul dad Frank (who’s almost definitely responsible for all this) and Frank’s dimbulb, trigger-happy brother Chas respectively. Their weird family dynamic is beautifully played, with an awkward father-son moment between Frank and Chas (complete with a kimono-clad Wise) a deadpan delight.
There are a couple of minor missteps along the way; Ryan’s ex-or-not girlfriend Stacy (Syd Wilder) feels underwritten and the pace does start to slacken towards the end, but it definitely finishes strong.
Funny, smart and sweet, with a great character at its centre, Night Of The Living Deb is a rom-zom-com that we can heartily recommend.
Night Of The Living Deb is released on 19 October from FrightFest Presents. This review is an extension of our Film4 FrightFest coverage. Keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.