Studio: Brain Damage Films
Director: Alek Gearhart
Writer: Alek Gearhart
Producer: Alek Gearhart
Stars: Dominique Marsell, Travis O’Leary, Will Le Fevre, Kyle Gordon, Dane O’Leary, Tyler Allen, Manuel Eduardo Ramirez
The three soldiers who survived the battle for Gory Ridge tell their tale to an author chronicling the war against the undead.
If the budget estimate quoted on IMDB is accurate, then “Ridge War Z” was made for less money than the average person pays for a year of cellular service. Any armchair filmmaker inspired by that idea should see the movie to know how little that buys before deciding to go without a phone for the next 365 days.
A foreboding scent of “uh-oh” wafts in from the title sequence when the “Smoking Alien Productions” logo appears onscreen looking like a crude crayon drawing from a Macaroni Grill placemat. Following behind is a card that simply reads, “present a film.” Usually this precedes a second card that adds, “by (director’s name here).” In this instance they merely wish to state the obvious.
It is already telling that the movie has only five behind-the-scenes credits and four of them are for the soundtrack. “Ridge War Z” puts the independent back into indie filmmaking.
The film opens with a relative bang as a half dozen soldiers in digital camouflage shout, shoot, and toss grenades during a quick firefight. Those are the last bullets to fly for some time. From there, the next 40 minutes are spent trudging up a hill in two separate timelines just to make it to a replay of that same brief burst of action already seen in the opening.
Author Eduardo Fonceca is writing a book chronicling the battle for Gory Ridge, one of presumably many such conflicts that took place during America’s war against the undead. In the present day, the three soldiers who survived that fatal encounter return to the ridge as wounded veterans to tell their tale. Their trek parallels a flashback sequence of them making that hike three years earlier in full combat gear and with a fuller compliment of soldiers.
“Ridge War Z” is a low budget, but serious take on the mindset of soldiers at war. That they are facing reanimated corpses is irrelevant to the main theme. They could just as easily be holed up in Iraq fighting insurgents and the storyline would be identical. Writer/director Alek Gearhart’s intention to show the mental toll taken on those who fight wars is not in question. The issue is that the script and the actors lack the seasoned chops to make an impact as a psychological character study. The castrated scope of the production also leaves it wanting in entertainment value.
Forty minutes of walking up the hill is not an exaggeration. In the three years earlier timeline, soldiers pass that time with “dudebro” dialogue about masturbating to thoughts of a buddy’s mother or other stereotypical military man banter. Present day narration consists of inflated importance blown into each line overstating the tragedy these men survived.
As the vets hobble up the hill, they pause to purse lips and stare contemplatively at grave markers while overemphatic music swells. Verbal exchanges and thousand yard stares highlight the horrors still vivid in their minds. At the same time, nothing depicted onscreen makes their plight more sympathetic than any other military conflict.
These six soldiers are the last men standing from an original unit of 120. The battle for Gory Ridge takes three more lives, but they act as if they are mourning Iwo Jima when their own backstory has them previously dealing with 114 other deaths. Frankly, it is incredibly difficult to see what the problem with this particular situation even is. Their unit is at the top of a barren desert ridge with full daylight visibility and without a single blind spot. There is no obstacle nearby higher than a knee on surrounding hillsides. A camping spot more ideal than this for maximum advantage over any enemy is unfathomable.
A radio transmission warns that 20 zulus are headed their way. By this point, they have added a lieutenant from another unit to their group, making them seven men with assault rifles, machine guns, frag grenades, and a rocket launcher against just 20 zombies. That is not enough undead danger to write home about, let alone make into a movie.
Over an hour into the film, zombies finally make an appearance. Realizing why “Ridge War Z” keeps them out of sight this long is clear when the viewer sees that these are mostly just guys in hoodies trying to disguise that they are not wearing makeup. That should probably be “one” guy in a hoody since the credits list just five zombies and the movie simply recycles them.
This is probably as good as a movie can be for only $1,000, which is to say, not very. The war journal storytelling style borders on pompous for the material and the plot is nothing but a handful of soldiers fighting a handful of zombies. Credit goes to Alek Gearhart and his cast for making a sincere attempt given their limited resources. But the zombie genre is too demanding and too saturated to take notice of a few animated muzzle flashes and some digital blood spray in service of an underachieving tale about three battle-hardened Army men and their dull autobiographer.
Review Score: 25