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In a post-viral outbreak world, Harry and his little sister Lily backpack from their mother’s house to the father’s rural home. The journey requires a long hike through the English countryside and mountainous terrain, avoiding marauding thugs and the savage infected who have a keen sense for sniffing out a single drop of blood. Pitching a tent every night becomes their only way of shielding them from the hungry eyes of both sides of the outbreak spectrum. When Lily becomes injured, they bump into the rigid survivalist Karl and boy Tom who provide them refuge for a few days. Harry can’t scratch the itch that Karl isn’t a good man and pursues out into the woods looking for a new place to take shelf with Lily. Harry has various run-ins with the infected and the unaffected that possibly clue him into who Karl really is and why the man with the hammer has been terribly obstinate and hardnosed. Suspicions and tensions spill out between them that leave Harry no choice but to take matters into his own hands and save Lily and Tom from a suspected killer.
Let’s preface this review by saying “Among the Living” is one of the bordering maybe undead, maybe not genre flicks that will continue the polarizing debate amongst fans on whether the infected are just that, infected and crazed, or are akin to the sprinting-zombie-like flesh-eating thing that Danny Boyle has put on the table ever since “28 Days Later.” “Among the Living” is very similar to the successful 2002 film that is also bred from the United Kingdom and began, or at least put in high gear, the running zombie revolution that continues to this day. Writer-director Rob Worsey, who was approx. 8 years of age when “28 Days Later” was released theatrically, channels his best Danny Boyle energy while on a budget with the first feature film released last year. As the short film cinematographer transitions into his first feature directorial, Worsey challenges himself to on a large-scale story done on a minimalist level of one brother and sister’s perilous venture to dad’s house and still sustain, to the viewer, that world-ending impression without a ton of background actors, a handful of principal characters, and a wooded, rural location away from large cities or even small municipalities or villages. “Among the Living” is also the first full-length producing credit for Worsey along with fellow producers Oliver Mitchell and Kate Humphries, Worsey’s Wife, under Worsey and Mitchell’s cofounded Relic Films production company.
“Among the Living’s” cast is centered around four characters in an intimate show of dichotomous dynamics between the age differences. Dean Michael Gregory and Melissa Worsey perform in their introductory feature film roles as on the younger side brother and sister, Harry and Lily, who have departed home in search for their dad living in the English countryside. Melissa Worsey, along with Leon Worsey, as the boy Tom, are director Rob Worsey’s younger siblings who both have had roles in their older brother’s short films. The fourth amongst the living is the acting veteran of the bunch by the name of George Newton. “The Slayers” and “Tales of Creeping Death” actor brings forth Karl’s harden chops to be a wary survivalist, especially when coming across Harry who immediately is dishonest with Karl about his own situation. A triggered defense mechanism activated by his inexperience to survive outside the comforts of routine, Harry must use what’s at his disposal in order to protect his younger sibling, Lily, from the horrors she’s seemingly insouciant to, but with Lily’s hurt leg and Karl’s seasoned ability to see through lies, Harry has no choice but to bunk with Karl and Tom, a pair we don’t initially know yet if related or otherwise. Like most older brothers, Harry has something to prove not only to Karl but to himself when it comes to protecting his family and that leads to the constant suspicion of Karl with his ability to setup minor, debilitating traps, handle himself in combat against the infected, and modestly peacock his confidence and surety to handle what’s thrown at him. George Newton’s style is perfect for this type of resolute survivalist and Dean Michael Gregory pairs well the lesser, inferior model of protection perfection as he struggles, mentally and physically, to care of what needs to be done. Lily and Tom often feel like a waste of value story space as their teenage antics are not mischievous or even hormonally driven but the way the characters are written and the way Melissa and Leon Worsey address the minor half can only be described is innocently nonchalant. Instead of sheltering in place, staying safe from the infected, or being curious about the cataclysmic change that is happening all around them, Lily and Tom throw the ball around in broad daylight, sneak out at night to check out a beautiful light display, or just dawdle around the forest in a contrary manner until something bad comes their way. “Among the Living” rounds out the supporting cast with Alexander King (“Chesterberg”), Rob Humphries, Gary Stead, Emily Rose Holt, and Emma Wise.
Much like the shark with their rapierlike olfactory, Rob Worsey’s infected can smell a droplet of blood from a faraway distance. The scent sends a guttural roar of excitement into the air before they run full speed to track down the injured prey, but this doesn’t mean the infected are incapable of seeing or hearing the unaffected; the blood scent is an additional hunt tactic Worsey supplements one of the more frightening genre creatures to existed – a wild-eyed, running and rampaging, flesh-eater. For Worsey’s world where chaos reigns with savagery from all sides, there didn’t appear to be a significant threat from the infected as Harry and Lily, as well as Lily and Tom, tramps through less-thicket forests, setup their flimsy camping tent in conspicuous places, and the infected a scarce despite their instant presence as soon as blood is spilled. To the viewer, survival seems easy-enough as there is no sense of a Darwinian theory or a predatory hierarchy to warrant concern – just don’t scrape your knee and everything will be dandy. Of course, scraping the knee comes easy to accident prone Lily as she becomes the device to ring the dinner bell and put her and her brother into constant danger. Where Worsey succeeds better is within the interactive drama between young, green-horned survivalist Harry and older, saltier survivalist Karl as Worsey’s able to delineate suspicion and misdirect assumptions to create a barrier that Harry can’t climb over in order to befriend Karl to the fullest and like a new to the force detective trying to solve his first case, Harry eager wants the pieces to fit despite not completing before his due diligence of gathering facts, truths, and evidence. A dubious Harry keeps the viewers on the edge until the very end when the revelation is known what kind of man Karl really is among the living. As far as zombie/infected films go, “Among the Living” doesn’t offer much in the way of something new, especially with the same adult man and teen girl narrative we’ve seen before but is only the backdrop to the bigger picture of trust and betrayal when faced with desperation and we get more of the latter from Rob Worsey’s debut film than really anything else.
Dread Central presents an Epic Pictures’ Blu-ray release of “Among the Living.” The AVC encoded, 1080p, high-definition BD50 carries with it an IMAX extended widescreen 1.90.1 extended aspect ratio and the image is lush with foliage bursts, leaving the contours of the terrain clearly visible as much of the narrative takes place in the forest or the picturesque rolling hills of the English countryside. Muted colors often run the show to convey a darker toned theme but are graded naturally. Jordan Lee’s cinematography isn’t exactly exciting but delivers a balance of contrast between brilliant lighting and keeping the black voids nice and inky, leading to note no obvious compression issues on the disc as well. The Blu-ray comes with two audio options – a UK English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and a Dolby Stereo 2.0. I couldn’t really distinguish between the two channels suggest that the girth of soundtrack, ambience, and dialogue are primary funneling through a two-channel output, leaving depth confined to the same space, and there’s hardly any range to speak of when it’s just characters in the woods for the length of the film with only their wits about them. Dialogue is clean and clear despite some hard to follow regional dialect, but there are English SDH, as well as Spanish subtitles, available. Special features include a director’s commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and crew interviews, Rob Worsey’s “Bee Sting” short film horror, the theatrical trailer, and Dread trailers for “Tiny Cinema,” “Midnight,” “Bad Candy,” and “Tin Can.” The physical release comes in a standard Blu-ray snapper with a composite cover art of characters in mute greys, blacks, and blues. The region free release comes not rated and has an 85-minute runtime. Rob Worsey’s bland, derived horror doesn’t impede the complexities of social disorder during a state of anarchy as the filmmaker seeks to subtly show the world crash and burn and those unwittingly turning a blind eye to the unconventional compassion until it’s too late.