The zombie film will never die, and as long as it’s popular, people from all over the world will take a stab at cashing in on the success of shows like The Walking Dead or films like World War Z. With Robin Aubert’s Les Affamés, French-Canadian cinema tries its hand at tackling the undead, and the results are mixed at best. The problem with taking on such a ubiquitous subgenre of horror is that it takes a lot to stand out from the herd; people have to either reinvent the wheel, or give it one hell of a spin in order to make a lasting impression. Aubert’s film falls somewhere in between those two outcomes by showing off strong technical skills but within a generic story.
Aubert structures his film around eight different characters trying to survive the aftermath of a zombie outbreak in rural Quebec. There’s Bonin (Marc- André Grondin), the presumptive lead who’s travelling with a traumatised woman (Monia Chokri) and a young girl (Charlotte St-Martin) he found in his travels; a machete-wielding businesswoman (Brigitte Poupart) who screams and hacks her way through every zombie she crosses paths with; two middle-aged women (Micheline Lanctôt and Marie-Ginette Guay) holing up in a farmhouse; and an old man (Luc Proulx) and young boy (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier) who both had to dispose of their infected family members. Aubert eventually brings these characters together through various means, and once united they try to make their way through the countryside without succumbing to the herds of the undead around them.
Anyone expecting more than a straight-up zombie movie with Les Affamés should prepare to be let down, since Aubert doesn’t have much interest in using the walking dead as anything beyond a threat to the lead characters. There is little to pull from beyond the surface, as the film operates as a pure survival tale and little more. The only real aspect worth mulling over is the way Aubert builds a mystery surrounding the zombies themselves, suggesting they have a level of intelligence or groupthink based on certain ominous traits all of them share. But that’s about it for finding anything to chew on with Aubert’s film.
So how does Les Affamés fare as a genre exercise? It certainly looks nice, thanks to cinematographer Steeve Desrosiers’ striking compositions, and the decision to avoid the use of handheld cameras is an inspired choice. But Aubert doesn’t show off enough skill in his craft to elevate his own material, nor does he have any interest in subverting expectations when it comes to the genre’s typical story beats. This is still a film about people trying to escape from hordes of running zombies, with gory kills and nasty bite marks. These scenes play out as expected, with the addition of some cheap jump scares. And it comes as no surprise when our unlikely band of heroes start getting picked off one by one towards the end in ways that match up directly with what to predict from this genre.
If anything, Les Affamés might only stand out from the crowd because of its competence. Much like its characters’ resignation towards their situation, Aubert’s film inspires little response out of it aside from some acknowledging some inspired framing and editing choices. Perhaps if Aubert made his film before the resurgence in zombie feature it might have had more of an impact, but after years of seeing so many things like it, Les Affamés isn’t likely to breathe new life into an area of horror in desperate need of one.
Les Affamés premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.