Frightfest and Blue Finch Releasing present Brain Freeze; on digital from the 6th September.
Let me start this review with a statement. I’m not too fond of Golf; in fact, I hate it. There, I said it. Everything about Golf makes me angry, from the fenced-off land used for just a privileged few through to the snobbery surrounding each clubhouse. Thankfully, I am not alone in this, as Brain Freeze director and co-writer Julien Knafo takes a nine-iron to themes of class, greed and nationalism in his intelligent new zombie horror/comedy. The root cause of his Quebec-based apocalypse, a golf course, where keeping the grass green and playable trumps any concerns over the surrounding town’s welfare. In fact, one could well imagine Donald Trump’s golfing empire resorting to similar measures; the vile orange-hued nationalist more concerned with profit and divide than community and inclusion.
It may be midwinter, but the golf course on Peacock Island is bright green, not a sprinkling of snow covering its surface. The reason is a new invention at the prestigious and exclusive golf course; a special fertiliser that allows grass to grow in even the coldest of conditions, its bright green shoots melting any snow that dares lay on its luscious carpet. But, what would happen if this new fertiliser made its way into the water supply? Well, the residents of Peacock Island are about to find out.
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André (Iani Bédard) is a teenager addicted to his phone and coca-cola, his life, a mix of online videos, games and school. His health nut mum, forever at work, while a Mexican maid, looks after his young sister in the sprawling family home. Meanwhile, Dan (Roy Dupuis) holds a job as a security officer for the island’s wealthy communities, his daughter employed at the local golf course where she tends to the needs of the mega-rich. However, as a mysterious illness takes hold that leads its victims to turn green and munch fellow residents, Dan, André, and his baby sister find themselves thrown together. And as they find refuge from the carnage around them, Dan finds himself reliant on André’s love of tech, while André relies on Dan’s intuition and manual skills.
Knafo laces his story with dry wit and humour, every scene rich in satirical cues. Here, we find genetically engineered crops debated and our tech-driven lives dissected alongside discussions on environmental protection, human greed, and wealth. But Brain Freeze doesn’t stop there, as it unpicks themes of borders, fear of immigration and growing global nationalism. Many of its core themes, born from the pandemic world in which we currently live.
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However, with so many ideas and political discussions at play, there is always a risk of dilution, and at times, Brain Freeze succumbs to this. Its narrative arc, so busy that its numerous themes begin to trip each other up. But, the sheer bravery of the screenplay and its ability to transcend the bog-standard zombie flick while equally paying homage to Romero is admirable. Meanwhile, André and Dan make for an engaging odd couple, their relationship one of convenience and necessity as the deadly green zombies slowly turn into grass. A theme that offers us a beautiful play on the fragility and arrogance of humans in the face of nature. Our obsession with using mother nature for our own selfish ends leading to disaster, or maybe comeuppance. The result, a midwinter tale of sprouting evergreen zombies.
Visually Brain Freeze also offers us something delightfully different, its snow-covered landscapes only highlighting the vivid green of the virus. At the same time, its clinical and sterile suburbia is slowly gobbled up by nature. However, Brain Freeze will not appeal to every taste. And those seeking a bog-standard zombie gore-fest should probably look elsewhere.
But for those like me who love to bathe in the brilliance of Romero’s satirical dissections of humanity, Brain Freeze will hit the spot. Does that mean it offers everything it could? Not quite; Knafo’s movie would have been much stronger if it had focussed on a few core messages rather than the plethora it presents. Equally, its dry humour will struggle to find a home with those who prefer slapstick comedy/horrors. But, for me, Brain Freeze is as refreshing as a deep green smoothly on a hot day. Or maybe that should be a warm mug of milk on a cold day? Whichever you prefer, Brain Freeze bathes in its creativity and vision, and that’s rare in a cinematic world of tried and tested zombie flicks.