Studio: Grand Entertainment Group
Director: Alastair Orr
Writer: Alastair Orr, Jonathan Jordaan
Producer: Ryan Macquet, Alastair Orr, Phil Gorn
Stars: Michael Thompson, Brandon Auret, Ingeborg Riedmaier, Ryan Macquet, Craig Hawks
Four test subjects participate in a shadowy medical experiment with deadly results.
While drafting the opening paragraph of this review, a sense of déjà vu descended that had me checking my own archives of previous film reviews. Sure enough, the topic started with here was already covered in my review of “State of Emergency.” Fitting then, that the two reviews share a theme. “State of Emergency” and “Expiration” are kindred spirits of a sort, and would make for apt companions on a double feature bill. And though several of the tangents were noted in “State of Emergency,” they bear repeating in a review of “Expiration,” even if it flirts with self-plagiarism.
Zombies continue to be a seemingly unending commercial cash cow in contemporary popular culture. But using zombie angles as a marketing tool is a double-edged sword that cuts deeply both ways. On one side of the blade, sales are likely to spike and a movie will increase its presence thanks to the undead fanatics that eagerly lap up any foray into the sub-genre. Slicing the other way, those same fans are liable to turn into a bloodthirsty horde of their own when the product does not quite match the description.
Press for “Expiration” has used the term “zombie.” The movie itself even uses the word as part of one character’s dialogue, although the character in question speaks abstractly as opposed to literally. While the term is not completely unwarranted, it does “Expiration” a disservice by creating a certain prospect around the style of thrills it has in store. Going into a viewing of “Expiration” looking for a zombie thriller will find that expectation ill met, as this film is something much more subdued.
Four people have willingly signed themselves up for a lucrative medical experiment. The good news is that the drug being tested cures cancer, corrects spinal injuries, and even removes tattoos, all from one simple pill. The bad news is that its side effects give the test subjects an expiration date. When that expiration date arrives, which does not take very long, an infection takes over and the subject becomes mindlessly desiring of blood and carnage.
Despite the similarity in the way the infected are depicted, this scenario has more in common with thoughtful thrillers like “Exam” and “Fermat’s Room” than it does with “28 Days Later.” Although not on the same level as “Exam” or “Fermat’s Room” with the complexities of its plot or the intelligence in execution, “Expiration” is about four people who awaken in a strange environment and need to quickly puzzle out their circumstance if they are to survive. The characters are cookie-cutter. There is the arrogant loudmouth, the quiet pacifist, the brain, and a somewhat nondescript female. But this being a medical experiment, it makes some sense that the test subjects would fit different typecasts to achieve a specific range of results.
Although they are integral to the story, the number of infected shown in the film can be counted on one hand, which is why expectations of mass zombie madness should be expelled. There is still some menace in the low number, however. Confronting a slow moving pack comprised of dozens of undead corpses is perhaps less frightening than being caught in a mazelike building with one nimble and vicious creature that could pounce from any shadow at any time. These monsters do not announce their presence until it is too late, and they may be waiting around any corner.
Again, the infected in “Expiration” are an element, and not the focus. The true focus is the mystery of what the experiment actually is and why events transpire in the way that they do. Those questions are answered, though it is possible that by the time the revelations appear, the viewer will already have formed an opinion on the film’s quality. Patience for the slow drips of information and tolerance for repetitive scenes of shambling shapes in hallways are required for total immersion, but the payoff is there for those willing to invest their attention.
Aside from questionable classification in the zombie sub-genre, “Expiration” is reminiscent of the similarly budgeted “State of Emergency” in its look. “Expiration” hides the amount spent on the production with a high contrast visual appearance focused on quick cuts in a handheld style. The bleakness depicted works well for the dilapidated building and lab environment settings. It is a simply staged film with a compact number of characters in one location, yet done so for the sake of the story, and not because of a limit imposed by the wallet.
“Expiration” occupies a middle ground in suspense and horror, though it leans further into the positive than into the negative. It is a film limited intentionally by its scope and unintentionally by its budget. It is not a fast-paced zombie horror film. It is a small and condensed drama centered on panicked people grasping for a handle on their predicament. Like the test subjects putting their John Hancocks on the release forms, be sure to know what you are signing up for before your name goes on the dotted line.
NOTE: “Expiration” was previously titled “Rancid.”
Review Score: 70