'Goal of the Dead': Cannes Review

Goal of the Dead - H 2014
Courtesy of Capture the Flag Films

Goal of the Dead - H 2014

It's zombies vs. humans in this amusing and gory Gallic death match.

A routine soccer game turns into a major slaughter in this French horror comedy from directors Benjamin Rocher and Thierry Poiraud.

CANNES – Everyone knows that soccer fans can act like maniacs, especially after a few dozen beers. Taking that notion to the next level, the French horror film Goal of the Dead imagines what happens when an entire stadium is transformed into an army of bloodthirsty zombies, attacking a handful of survivors in a town overrun with apocalyptic chaos and human entrails. Gory, funny, yet overstretched at two hours, this is a movie where a header means that someone’s head is literally flying off his body.

Taking plenty of cues (including its title) from Edgar Wright, this energetic and well-made genre bender is divided, like a game, into two halves -- the first directed by Benjamin Rocher (The Horde), the second by Thierry Poiraud (The Return of James Battle). Originally released in France as separate movies, they’ve now been combined into a single feature that suffers under the weight of all the material, especially for such a throwaway concept. But Goal of the Dead is also a more intelligently realized venture than many a broad Gallic comedy or action flick, and as such deserves some recognition abroad, at least in ancillary.

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A lengthy setup introduces us to the Olympique de Paris soccer squad, whose star player is a trash-talking teenager, Idriss (Ahmed Sylla), and whose seasoned center, Sam (Alban Lenoir), will be facing the hometown crew of Caplongue that he left behind 17 years ago. But as their team bus slowly winds its way to the provincial French city, their local opponents get an unexpected boost when one of them is injected with contaminated steroids, transforming him into a rabid, vomit-spewing monster.

Despite the early hook, the filmmakers take their time getting to the big game centerpiece -- at which point the zombie virus spreads to both players and fans, causing body parts to fly, faces to rip apart and blood to flow like suds pouring out of a 10 kegger. In the meantime, we’re introduced to several subplots, one involving Sam and a fan girl (Tiphanie Daviot) with a hidden agenda, another involving Idriss’ multi-million Euro contract and a few more highlighting various townspeople trying to survive.

It’s definitely overkill for such a B-grade subject, though the five credited writers find smart ways to insert humor amid the mayhem, with lots of gags directed at spoiled athletic stars, drunken sports fanatics and the ever-contentious divide between Paris and the rest of France. There are also some nice bits of gory splendor, such as a decapitation by car window and the inevitable head used as a soccer ball.

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But whereas Shaun of the Dead worked by keeping its havoc limited to two main characters and a few locations, Goal overshoots its mark by bringing in way too many elements, even if the dots are all connected by the time the plasma supply runs dry.

Despite the profusion of plot, the directing duo keeps things lively till the clock runs out, with cinematographer Matias Boucard capturing the prodigious carnage with polished widescreen visuals, using stadium floodlights for key slaughter sequences at the halftime and finale. Special f/x wiz Olivier Afonso (Taken 2) also does a terrific job turning all the corn syrup and prosthetics into eye-popping revulsion.

Production companies: Capture the Flag Films

Cast: Alban Lenoir, Charlie Bruneau, Tiphaine Daviot, Ahmed Sylla, Alexandre Philip

Directors: Benjamin Rocher, Thierry Poiraud

Screenwriters: Tristan Schulmann, Marie Garel Weiss, Quoc Dang Tran, Izm, Laetitia Trapet

Producer: Raphael Rocher

Director of photography: Matias Boucard

Production designer: Armelle Demange

Costume designers: Marion Moules, Matthieu Camblor

Editors: Dimitri Amar, Nathalie Langlade, Stephane Elmadjian

Composer: Thomas Couzinier, Frederic Kooshmanian

Special effects supervisor: Olivier Afonso

Sales agent: Films Distribution

No rating, 120 minutes