PLOT- In the racially charged South of the 1960’s, the black population of a small town are blamed for the spread of a virulent plague. In other words, Zombies.
Bobby, a white mechanic, is racing through the countryside with his wife Carolyne. She was bitten by one of those infected and is fading fast. Awakening in a wrecked car with Carolyne missing, Bobby follows a trail of blood down the road towards a fateful encounter and an unthinkable choice.
Well, this was unexpected.
VELVET ROAD (2011), a short film directed by L. Gustavo Cooper, was recommended to me in a rather out-of-the-blue fashion. A short film about zombies? Of course I’m in! A short film about zombies with civil rights subtext?
Ummm, ok. Why the hell not?
VELVET ROAD could have been an absolute train wreck. Set down south in the racially charged 60’s, a plague is going around, and one of the first things we learn is that the plague is being blamed on the local black population. I was fearing an over-the-top, retro-exploitative gorefest. What I got, however, was subtlety. Without this subtlety, I don’t think the movie would have worked as well as it did.
We meet Bobby (Thomas R. Martin), as he is hightailing it down an isolated country road. His wife Carolyne (Heather Ricks) is in the passenger seat, and is in a world of hurt. It’s obvious she has been bitten, and doesn’t have long. Cooper then cuts to Bobby, injured and trapped in his overturned vehicle, and Carolyne has disappeared. This leads Bobby on a search and a confrontation that I will not spoil here, but packs a pretty strong gut punch.
In more amateur hands, this tale could have come across as heavy-handed and dull, but Cooper plays it smooth, which works in the films’ favor. The film is polished, with Cooper showing a deft touch with the camera. The racial aspects of the story are broached but it never gets preachy or overbearing. Again, a subtle move that strengthens the movie. I’d be curious to see what Cooper could do, given a bigger budget.
Acting wise, Thomas R. Martin plays Bobby really low key, which works in some scenes but not as well in others. He reminded me a little of a younger Bill Paxton. Heather Ricks (Carolyne) had the whole screaming-in-pain thing down. Walter Colson, who plays a black man that Bobby finds trapped in the back of a police car, brought an air of nobility and grace to his part.
Zombie-wise, if you are a gorehound or chaos fanatic, then check your preconceived notions at the door. There isn’t much blood or gore, and only a little zombie action. The makeup and effects, while not extensive, are well done. If you are looking for a bloodbath, look elsewhere.
The script was workmanlike. Nothing really stood out, but nothing fell flat either.
As far as things that didn’t go entirely right, my criticisms are minor. Martin underplayed his role, which worked in his scenes with Colson, but not so much in the scenes with his wife. If my wife was dying in the seat next to me, I’d be an absolute bundle of nerves and frantic energy. I don’t know, maybe I’m just weird. I didn’t really have any other issues with the flick.
Overall, VELVET ROAD is a solid short, giving us a zombie tale in a setting that I was honestly not expecting to work as well as it did. Recommended.
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