WFTB Score: 10/20
The plot: Brothers Andy and Terry come up with a hare-brained scheme to raise money to save their grandfather’s East End retirement home from demolition: rob a bank! Unfortunately, their plans are interrupted by a zombie invasion, forcing the gang of robbers to fight their way towards the care home to stage a geriatric rescue.
The Bow Bells care home in the East End of London is in a right old two and eight. Residents Ray, Peggy and Hamish (Alan Ford, Honor Blackman and, in his final film, Richard Briers) are just after a quiet life, but Heartman Construction are hell-bent on knocking it down to build flats. Ray’s clueless grandsons Terry and Andy (Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway) decide that the only way of rescuing the care home is to rob a bank for the cash, which involves bringing in feisty cousin Katie (Michelle Ryan), mate Davey (Jack Doolan) and weapons procurer/all-round nutter Mickey (Ashley Thomas).
Predictably, the job goes horribly wrong and police surround the bank, leading Mickey to take unfortunate Emma and Clive (Georgia King and Tony Gardner) as hostages. Less predictably, careless excavation by Heartman results in a zombie plague, which wipes out the police but also traps the old folk in their home. Are Andy, Terry and the others cowed by the undead hordes? Of course not! They’re cockneys, and tooled-up cockneys at that: if their granddad survived the blitz, they’re not about to let zombies spoil their day.
By rights, Cockneys vs Zombies should fall flat on its face. To begin with, the idea’s reminiscent of Snakes on a Plane: brilliant title, but not necessarily something you can construct a proper film around. Secondly, it’s hardly the freshest of plots, being three parts Shaun of the Dead, two parts From Dusk Till Dawn and dashes of Guy Ritchie’s catalogue and Eastenders. More specifically, how can this plot – and this cast – possibly reconcile its disparate elements into a satisfying whole without coming across as a quirky but stretched TV special?
To some extent these points ring true, because – strangely enough – Cockneys vs Zombies is arguably too good at each different thing it does. Thanks largely to Ashley Thomas’ enthusiastic turn as ‘Mental’ Mickey, the bank robbery and its aftermath feel pretty heavy, making a nonsense of the already-iffy notion that they’re doing it in a good cause. These scenes don’t quite mesh with the convincingly nasty horror elements, and the switching of the tale between the robbers and the old people’s home only adds to the sense of confusion.
Then, on top of all that, there’s the comedy, which is genuinely funny when it arrives (Hamish’s low-speed escape being a highlight); however, unlike Shaun, Cockneys vs Zombies doesn’t primarily want to be funny, which is unfortunate: a cracking Chas’n’Dave song, Head to Head (with the Undead), is relegated to the closing titles when it should have been a star attraction. One can only assume that it was considered too larky to accompany the film’s graphic gore, or that it was commissioned before the director discovered that his movie should be more Dusk Till Dawn than Lesbian Vampire Killers.
It’s worth repeating that the film does its gangster bits, its gory bits and its funny bits well, aided by a cast that by and large handles its Cock-er-nee angle with aplomb. To be honest, Hardiker and Treadaway aren’t the most interesting leads, but Thomas and Doolan are good fun and Ryan makes for a spunky heroine who can really handle a gun, unlike King who is amusingly gauche in the face of the zombie threat*.
The real stars are in the care home, however: the late, great Briers doesn’t have much to do but does it beautifully, Blackman plays working class surprisingly well and Dudley Sutton’s Eric mixes up his rhyming slang hilariously. And it’s lovely to see Ford, East End hard man par excellence, take a starring role. If the host of comedy/soap opera faces can’t help but make the project feel televisual, Hoene does what he can to show the city in ruins, though budget was always clearly going to limit what they could actually put up on the screen.
Cockneys vs Zombies doesn’t fall flat on its face at all. Indeed, compared to the crushing embarrassment and fake Lahndahn accents of many British films, this feels authentic and well-made, even if the authentic swearing eventually gets a bit much. It’s not a laugh riot, nor is it a gore fest, and the dodgy bank job plot occasionally takes it down some unrewarding avenues, but assuming the odd dismembered corpse doesn’t put you off, it’s definitely worth a butcher’s.
NOTES: I’ve not really mentioned the zombies themselves, because they’re unremarkable in and of themselves. It’s curious that they can kill so many people while being so lumbering and unthreatening to our heroes; but hey, that’s the movies.