'What We Become': Film Review

What We Become Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Fantasic Fest
Does too little to rise above the zombie-flick throng.

Call these Danish zombies the "trotting" dead.

A promotional still featuring a pale, black-eyed young girl who has clearly become a zombie may cause fans to hope that the Danish import What We Become will do for this genre what the Swedish Let the Right One In did for vampires. The reality is more pedestrian in Bo Mikkelsen's tasteful but underwhelming Scandi horror picture, which focuses on one family's experience of a Z-word apocalypse. While fests and niche bookings may pay off modestly, it will find most of its audience on VOD.

In the well-to-do community of Sorgenfri, near Copenhagen, teenage Gustav (Benjamin Engell) seems destined for a happy summer: The lake is dappled in swimming-weather sunshine, and an interesting girl named Sonja (Marie Hammer Boda) has just moved in across the street. Then a newscast in the background says something about "an infectious disease" at a nearby nursing home, and viewers know Gustav will have to dodge some brain-hungry corpses before canoodling with the new girl.

Even more than Fear the Walking Dead, which has gone almost two full seasons without quite justifying its existence, What We Become emphasizes the more mundane side of living in the End Times. Hazmat-suit-clad soldiers roll in and quarantine the whole town, wrapping houses as if they're being gas-bombed for pests and dropping off daily rations for those stuck inside. The electricity goes off a lot.

But given the ease with which people sneak out of their homes — at one point, there are more members of Gustav's family running around town at night than there are stuck inside — the movie never really achieves the claustrophobic, under-siege atmosphere of Night of the Living Dead. And it's kind of a good thing we're not trapped with this family, since, despite some fine acting by Mille Dinesen (as Gustav's mom) and others, Mikkelsen's script offers too little character development to keep us interested in them.

What We Become is stingy with its monsters until very close to the end, when we see that they're neither George Romero-grade slow shufflers nor Danny Boyle's amphetamine-fueled predators; they move just quickly enough to ruin the neighborhood. Effects work is quite good once we get to see it, and the action finally hits its stride in the minutes before the credits roll. Despite a satisfying conclusion, though, this is one living-dead saga unlikely to earn a sequel.

Venue: IFC Center
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Production company: Meta Film
Cast: Mille Dinesen, Troels Lyby, Benjamin Engell, Marie Hammer Boda
Director-screenwriter: Bo Mikkelsen
Producer: Sara Namer
Executive producers: Kenneth D. Plummer, Meta Louise Foldager, Louis Tisne
Director of photography: Adam Philp
Production designer: Thomas Bremer
Costume designer: Rikke Simonsen
Editors: Bo Mikkelsen, Niels Ostenfeld
Composer: Martin Pedersen
Casting director: Anja Philip

In Danish

Not rated, 81 minutes