Does the zombie genre have anything new to offer? I say no, but then again I’m not a filmmaker. The only way a zombie movie can stand out in a genre crowded with the undead is to do what it does better than everyone else. The movie needs to compete with the goriest (Dead Alive), the scariest (28 Days Later (not technically zombies, I know)), or the funniest (Return of the Living Dead (yes it is funnier than Shaun of the Dead)) zombie movies already out there. But what do you do if your budget consists of little more than pocket change and your cast and crew consists solely of amateurs? And if that isn’t bad enough, what do you do if you’re Canadian?
If you’re writer/director Rob Grant you invite all your friends and neighbors to work on the movie both in front of the camera and behind, and you pool everyone’s pocket change together into one undead piggy bank. You also acknowledge that there’s nothing you can do about being Canadian.
Yesterday follows six main characters through a few days of a zombie apocalypse. Dave (Mike Fenske) and Graham (Jesse Wheeler) are work buddies who first encounter the undead devouring a co-worker’s bowels in the middle of the office. Mike (Mike Kovac) is an expert marksman dealing with a father suffering from Alzheimers when the dead come a’knocking. Chris (Graham Wardle) has just lost his beloved girlfriend to a zombie attack and now sees little to live for. Rob (Justin Sproule) and Lewis (Scott Wallis) are utter pricks who’ve just robbed a convenient store with a squirt gun before encountering their first zombie. The six men eventually cross paths and soon learn that the undead may not be their biggest threat…
And low budget aside, that’s where Yesterday loses the most value. We’ve already seen zombie/monster movies where the human survivors discover the greatest evil and the most danger comes from other humans. From George Romero’s Living Dead films to the Resident Evil flicks to Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, man has proven again and again that he doesn’t have to be dead to be a murderous, backstabbing asshole. The bad guys here, Rob and Lewis, are unbelievable and over-the-top bad. We meet them robbing a store with a water pistol, hardly hardcore, but soon after they’re content shooting zombies and survivors alike from a rooftop perch without the slightest twinge of guilt. That’s a huge leap to make and neither the characters nor the actors come even close to pulling it off convincingly. Instead, we have to accept their instant transition from prickish punks to murderous dicks. And they are dicks… the good guys have ample cause to kill the bastards and multiple opportunities to do so but never follow through. It grows beyond simple frustration and becomes highly annoying.
The remaining actors do an adequate job, but none of them would be mistaken for professionals on an audition tape. And the effects look better from a distance than they do up close. And the film stock seems to change quality several times throughout depending on what they were able to afford that day apparently. And… there’s plenty more I could criticize here to be honest, but at some point you just have to accept Yesterday for the ultra-low budget flick it is and focus on the strengths. And those strengths are the script and the enthusiasm of everyone involved. The two thugs aside, the other characters are pretty well written and often have some humorous dialogue to share. The kills and the action are put together fairly well too and when combined with the film’s humor result in a mildly entertaining, occasionally frustrating, obviously cheap, and never boring movie. It may not be Zombieland, but Canuck-land is pretty close…
The Upside: Some creative kills; often funny dialogue
The Downside: Definitely low budget; acting is amateurish across the board; bad guy Rob (no relation) lives way too goddamn long and has an unrealistic character arc
On the Side: The film cost $12,000 Canadian. That’s roughly $47.00 US and the reason why the movie gets a higher grade than it would if compared to more traditionally budgeted releases.