If bucketloads of dripping gore is what you’re after you may end up feeling shortchanged by What’s Left of Us (2014), a genre piece far more interested in existential vicissitudes and much less in entrails and folk being eaten alive. In writer-director Christoph Behl’s exceptional horror movie, a love triangle provides a majority of the tension. Impressionistic sound design and eerie silences convey the outside world we never really glimpse, and lighting techniques and dripping sweat recreate the sweltering heat of Buenos Aires – a city name, too, that comes with an ironic twist given the zombie apocalypse setting – behind barricades. What’s Left of Us is entirely focused on character dynamics and small revelations.
Behl’s film trades in subtle shifts and quiet emotional pain that builds up to an irreversible act of violence. Imagine if Albert Camus or Jean-Paul Sartre had penned a novel featuring the living dead as a backdrop to musings on human nature and desire. Ana (Victoria Almeida), Axel (Lautaro Delgado) and Jonathan (William Prociuk) are roomies. In another time and place, their lives might have been complicated by amorous pangs and affairs of the heart. But as well as contending with all that emotional stuff, they live in a world where the dead have risen. Ana and Jonathan are an item. Axel feels increasingly like the proverbial third wheel and begins to resent Ana’s presence.
Axel implements a mateship seduction of Jonathan, an attempt at a ‘bros before hoes’ policy, but it doesn’t work because Jonathan wants them to be united and to sort out any differences. The trio survive day-to-day by taking occasional missions out into the city (we never witness these) and recording their thoughts and feelings – Big Brother-style – on an old Sharp Viewcam. The catalyst for tragedy occurs when Axel and Jonathan bring back a zombie. Instigated as a macho dare between friends, it’s the equivalent of introducing an unwelcome guest into the fold and it undoes already brittle bonds. The poor thing is like a child caught in the middle of two parents at war with each other. What’s Left of Us is to be commended for mining such bleak drama from an over-familiar sub-genre. It takes Romero’s social commentary – that people can be relied upon to make a bad situation even worse – and redraws it into a tragedy about unrequited love and festering ills of the human condition. Gorehound aficionados wanting regular intervals of blood-and-guts may find Behl’s drama not to their liking; this is a zombie movie with a pleasing amount of brains.
Martyn Conterio | @Cinemartyn