Christian James (director)
Matchbox Films (studio)
24 February 2014 (released)
18 February 2014
'Stalled' is a new (very) low-budget zombie film from British director Christian James, co-written by his leading man Dan Palmer. It centers around a melancholy handyman (simply named WC in the end titles) who finds himself trapped in a ladies' restroom during an inconvenient outbreak of the undead.
Yes, you heard me correctly. What makes this film so remarkable is that James and Palmer do not break from this location for pretty much the entirety of the feature. As you can probably guess by the title, Palmer's character spends the majority of his time entrapped within the four walls of a toilet stall. This may sound visually limiting but the continuously inventive ways the duo handle the action and depict the lead character's lament keep the brief running time ticking along with a frenetic energy that also manages to swim in an underlying feeling of doom and creepy malaise.
The undead attack takes place during a Christmas office party which not only allows for some hilarious visuals (Jesus, Santa, Mrs Santa and a Figgy Pudding played by stand-up Dave Fulten to name but a few) but also gives WC fuel to navel-gaze about his lot in life. His thoughts do not go unheard, as we discover that a work colleague of the female variety (Antonia Bernath) is similarly trapped in the neighbouring cubicle. The dialogue between Bernath and Palmer is crackling with chemistry that alternates between flirting, teasing, insults and psychotherapy (emphasis on the 'psycho'). This is the most surprising element of 'Stalled' and a shame to think that a lot of people, who would most probably run screaming from a horror movie set in a commode, would definitely find these elements both unexpected and rewarding.
But don't let that make you think that this film is bloodless. Claret flies all over this loo from Hell; with severed fingers used as bullets and brains bashed in with spanners, the gore is hokey and home-made but this just adds to the infectious energy of the proceedings.
An obvious knee-jerk comparison to Edgar Wright's 'Sean of the Dead' would be lazy and unfounded. Holding these two films up to the same scrutiny is like comparing 'South Park' to 'Shrek'. Apart from the country of origin and genre the two films are not from the same universe. Obviously budget is the prime difference here, Wright and Simon Pegg's 2004 classic being a Universal Studios offering where as 'Stalled' is a minimalist indie. Palmer's WC and Pegg's Sean are also very different fellows. Palmer's vanity-free performance depicts this handyman as petty, bitter, selfish and pig-headed - not one moment was I reminded of the audience friendly Pegg creation.
Speaking of this one-man show; Palmer carries the entire movie and his reaction to the zombie epidemice he is presented with is more annoyance than fear 'Go away! I want alive people!' is his initial response. Fleeting from dry mumblecore sarcasm to broad British Rowan Atkinson slapstick his musty caretaker is a character whose action figure you will want on your desk.
The film's score is heart pounding in places and heart string pulling at others, notably slick for a small UK horror film. Make-up is sometimes one of the films few letdowns, along with the odd foggy bit of cinematography which sometimes distracts from the razor sharp editing and fun performances, but overall 'Stalled' is a mini-epic of an achievement.
I look forward to what this team have to offer in the future as Christian James, Dan Palmer and company have created a low-budget horror-comedy classic. If you don't go into this expecting studio sheen and million dollar effects and instead ready yourself for an electric script, gallows humour and unique direction you won't be dissapointed.DVD Special Features:
45 Minute Behind The Scenes.
Opening Sequence Storyboard Comparison.
Ladder Sequence Storyboard Comparison.
Audio Commentary 1: Christian James, Dan Palmer, Rick Edwards.
Audio Commentary 2: Producer Richard J Kerrigan & Exec Producer Daniel Pickering.'Stalled' is available on DVD and Blu-Ray via Matchbox Films from 24th February.
Available at ASDA and Amazon.co.uk.