Belaban Hidup: Infeksi Zombie (2021)

Rating: B

Dir: Ray Lee
Star: Pablo Amirul, Anna Melissa, Nelissa Nizam, Iqbal Danell
a.k.a. Zombie Infection

On the one hand, at its core, this is just another zombie movie. Scientific experimentation goes bad, unleashing a horde of undead flesh munchers on the local community. But what makes this unique is its setting: deep in the Borneo jungle, featuring a largely indigenous cast of non-professionals, and mostly in the Dayak language. It is, perhaps, the kind of zombie movie Werner Herzog would have made. If only Klaus Kinski were still alive, to play the role of Dr. George, the scientist responsible. It is these elements which give it a freshness I found surprisingly invigorating, considering how jaded I am about the zombie genre. Though credit, also, for not hanging about. It’s only a couple of minutes before things kick off, and the participants scatter from George’s lab.

Initially, both they and they film ds seem to be going in several different directions. George’s assistant (Katrina Grey from Daytime Nightmare), is seeking the last enzyme for an anti-virus, while another group head for a shopping mall to look for a relative, and it feels like it’s going towards Dawn of the Dead territory. However, neither prove of much significance. Instead, everyone ends up in the jungle, believing the zombies won’t be able to cope with the uneven terrain. This turns out not to be the case, but it is there the film settles down. It focuses mostly on Gadang (Amirul), son of a village elder, and his efforts to protect his heavily-pregnant wife and daughter from the undead hordes sweeping through the forest.

The title translates as “Fight for Life: Zombie Infection”, and that’s an appropriate summary. There’s not a lot of down-time here, with rarely more than a few minutes between attack sequences. Admittedly, if you’re expecting modern levels of gore, it will seem tame; it’s more Night of the Living Dead than Dawn in the splatter department. However, the pace helps compensate for this, and Lee makes great use of the surroundings. Shots of the zombies moving through the mist-shrouded foliage are genuinely creepy, and their make-up is better than I expected too. Indeed, the whole thing is well-crafted from a technical aspect, and Amirul makes for a sympathetic hero.

I will say, the ending did feel somewhat abrupt – without explicit spoilers, I expect any sequel to be subtitled “Trouble Downstream”. Some threads are just abandoned, like the search for the anti-virus, and the film all but forgets about the characters who drove the story in its first half. All told, the plot could have used some tightening in these areas. However, it does have what I found to be one of the more emotional partings in any zombie film. Melodramatic? Perhaps. Yet it worked on me. There’s also something very cool about sitting in Arizona, and watching the first zombie film made with locals in the Borneo jungle. If the plot is nothing new,  the other aspects more than make up for that, and the effort by everyone here is deserving of much respect.

This review formed part of our October 2021 feature: 31 Countries of Horror. It screened as part of Phoenix FearCon 2021.