Hello and welcome to the very first installment of Netflix Dumpster Dive! This is a review series in which I find a movie that looks to be dismissable or uninteresting on Netflix (or another video site if it happens not much is drawing my eye), and evaluate it for anyone looking for something to watch. In the future, I may do two to three movies at a time depending on length to fit the “dumpster dive” imagery, but for now, I’ll be taking a look at only one movie. Gotta start small, baby steps, right?
In each post, the review will be divided into two segments, the first a general review without spoilers for those who want to watch the movie with surprises intact, and the second allowing spoilers to elaborate my points about the movies strengths and weaknesses.
In the spirit of Halloween, we will be kicking off the series with a movie out of one of my favorite genres, zombie horror. Zombies started out as a general love of mine, but have since become a guilty pleasure as they have been done to death. If I can find a decently made zombie movie, it is always a treat. And today I have done just that. Our movie today is the Danish zombie movie: What We Become, AKA Sorgenfri.
Before we get into the primary review, I should mention that this movie definitely isn’t without some attention. It has a generally decent score (for the genre) of 2.9 on Netflix and a large handful of writers have reviewed it for various blogs and sites, but I wanted to start with a movie that showed promise rather than the gut-wrenching fear some films I have encountered on Netflix have made me feel (and not in a good way), while still being a movie many people pass over because they don’t expect much. Without spoiling anything for myself, I determined What We Become would be a good baseline for the series. In the future, things will be done more blindly.
SPOILER FREE REVIEW
If you’re not sure whether this movie is worth watching, and want an assessment without any plot spoilers, this section is for you.
Overall Personal Rating: 7/10 (Rounded to 4 Stars on Netflix)
- Total time is 1 hour and 20 minutes (rounded by Netflix)
- Seizure Warning at 0:01:51 and 1:16:37
- Violence: 7/10 (Bloody, intense violence, not gratuitous; often left to imagination)
- Language: 7/10 (“Fuck” is worst word said, is said semi often)
- Nudity: 1/10 (Cleavage/bra is most shown, no panties, no nipples, etc.)
- Sexual Content: 5/10 (Sex scenes to a minimum, not gratuitous, serve story/characters)
- Entire movie is Danish w/ English subtitles
Where it Excels
- Phenomenal Building of Characters
- Genuine Feel of Dialogue and Passage of Time
- Linear Telling of Simple Plot, Through Direct and Indirect Storytelling
- Taking a Concept and Making it Its Own
- Not Pretending to be Something It is Not
Where it Falls Short
- Very Short Scenes, Lots of Cutting
- Occasional Inorganic Shots and Poor Props
- Abrupt Ending
I started up What We Become cautiously optimistic. The little research I did and the score on Netflix gave me hope that I would be seeing a new zombie movie that I could thoroughly enjoy without groaning or rolling my eyes. Still, I kept these expectations in check, and was not disappointed.
What I found very early in the film is that every character with a semi-significant role felt like a real person. I never felt like I was watching actors read a script. The marriages, the families, the siblings, all were real and relatable on some level. And while some characters fill common roles or tropes, all of them felt like their own people, like I had never seen that character in another movie doing the same thing. On top of that, not once did any of the dialogue seem too “Hollywood” or phoned in by the actor. I was even compelled by the child actress’s performance, and kudos to her. Character and world building are this movies absolute best strengths, and are what made me know I was going to enjoy myself.
As the movie goes on, it is not difficult to know how much time has passed without hearing it. Each passing day feels organic, and they never bleed into one another and throw the viewer off as to whether they are seeing one day or the next. There is one time skip in the film, but again the movie tells this organically and does not smack the viewer in the face with a title card or header to let them know.
Another huge strength of the movie is the simplicity and linear nature of its plot. Complexity is mostly left to the viewer to infer from context. The movie gives the viewer enough of the world to understand it without halting story progression to expand on it. In other words, the movie does not hold your hand, it just beckons for you to follow, with no stops or detours.
Zombie fans like myself do not get as fatigued on the genre as most people. That, however, does not mean we never get tired of watching the same movie with different actors. What We Become is a godsend. It still is a zombie movie. It still has the same general tropes and plot points, but the pacing and feel of the movie are all its own. And I do not mean to say the movie has the same plot with a unique feel, but rather takes the standard zombie formula, injects new elements and story, and becomes a totally new film. It is so refreshing to see a zombie movie like this.
Now, this point of the movie’s strengths, while not the top strength, is maybe the most important, and what helped the movie pull everything else together. What We Become never once pretends to be something bigger than or separate from what it is. This is a zombie horror movie with intent to entertain, and it goes no further than that. No attempts to say humanity as a whole is evil, no preaching about society in any way: no pretentious rhetoric, in other words. It also does not cram in sci-fi (aside from the zombie virus) in the form of super zombies just for shock or fun, it does not try to swap back and forth from action/adventure and horror, and it does not turn its characters into marksmen and superheroes when they fight zombies. The movie is grounded and level, and is aware of what it is, without ever winking at the viewer about what it is. That is one of the problems with many zombie movies. If they have potential to be good and are well made, often the execution is shoddy because they tried to be too many things and lost sight of the core film. What We Become has elements of heavy drama in its characters, but it does not try to be drama with some zombies on the side. It has military in it, but at no point turns into a big run and gun type flick for the hell of it. The most fun part about What We Become was being able to know what the movie wanted for itself from beginning to end.
Now onto my issues with the movie, the biggest one being the jumpiness. The overall pacing of the movie was good, aside from my third issue, which we will get to shortly. The narrative flowed how it should, and was enjoyable, but often, scenes flew by very fast and sometimes were spaced out in a way that made me think they could be one scene followed by the separate scene they are dispersed between. It kept jumping back and forth between two locations/characters in a way that threw me off a bit. Sometimes it was nice because I could keep from getting sick of this character or that, but others I just wanted the movie to focus on one for longer than 45 seconds. Granted, there are portions of the movie where this editing style benefitted the movie a lot in building tension, and those are fine by me. Other times, frequent jumping is jarring, and I wound up missing dialogue and having to go back and play it over a few times or pause to read the subtitle, and the effect was lost. I do want to note that the movie being in Danish was not an issue. It was made in Denmark, for people in Denmark. I imagine, however, due to how quickly some parts go by, even Danish-speakers would not catch an important line. Perhaps I am wrong there, but from my perspective, it seemed that way. The movie definitely could have benefitted from better scene spacing.
The next issue I had with What We Become is a minor one, and it is one that I did not have often. Sometimes, there were shots that made the movie look sort of off, like I was looking through the camera rather than as a present character. It is hard to put into words, but I think it is an issue people have encountered before, where for a split second the immersion is broken, and you cannot put your finger on it, but it feels like something in the framing or the lighting, something, and then it’s gone like that. The second half to this bullet refers to the props, and this is even less significant than the first, but still something that stood out. One prop in particular stands out in my mind as just looking phony, and it took me out of the movie for a moment. The immersion in the movie is on point almost entirely throughout, so these issues do not greatly impact the movie, but they have an effect nonetheless.
The last point is probably the one that gets me down the most. What We Become was so good, but the last ten minutes felt rushed. There were still great character moments and it was by no means terrible, but it felt like there are another ten minutes of buildup missing. Maybe not even that, maybe just five more minutes put to good use would have done the movie well. I like the ending in its own right. The third act of the movie is strong, very strong. It just feels like the great pacing of the rest of the film got put aside for one reason or another. For the people who want to know without watching the movie, I will elaborate in the spoiler section of the post. Otherwise, all I can say is to watch the movie, and you will see what I mean.
Overall, What We Become is a fantastic, fun zombie movie, that kept me entertained throughout, even if the ending felt a bit rushed. It succeeds in telling a simple narrative in an exciting and easy-to-follow manner, with a world and characters that speak to the viewer meaningfully. It is by no means perfect, but it is also above average as far as zombie movies go, and a 7/10 feels totally justified, without being generous. If you want a well paced, character driven, entertaining zombie film, look no further than What We Become.
STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE (SPOILERS)
From this point forward, I will be discussing many of my points using specific examples straight from the movie itself. If you are interested in watching What We Become devoid of spoilers, I suggest not continuing reading until you have done so.
In this section, I want to touch most on my favorite part of What We Become: world and character building.
The first scene we enter the main family’s home, we are met with a very bright white, neat-looking house. Gustav, the teenage guy in the film, is told by his mother, Pernille, to take off his shoes and hang up his hoodie, even though he is going to be going back out soon, telling us right from the gate she is the type of mom that tries to keep things tidy and in order. Following this, Pernille talks to Gustav’s father, Dino, about how he does not scold the children enough, to which Dino is sort of spacing out while he is doing the dishes. When she finally gets him to acknowledge her, he whistles, apparently something he does to break tension, which Pernille hates because he does it regardless of how major a circumstance is. I remember on my first watch that I was instantly enthralled with how the characters were so seemingly natural. This felt like a family, not like actors pretending to be one.
We also often are shown that Pernille goes out of her way to shelter Gustav’s little sister, Maj. Maj has clearly reached an age (7-9) where she knows things and can reason out when something is amiss, but that is hampered often by Pernille’s convincing her she has nothing to fear. For example, the family’s elderly neighbor, Elna, came to Dino for help because her husband, Claus, had gone cold and limp as if he had died. Maj asks why he was so still, why he was cold, etc. Gustav keeps telling her that Claus was dead, but Pernille insists no one was dead or cold, and Claus had disappeared because he went to the store or for a walk and Elna forgot. Maj does not buy it, as later in bed she says to Pernille “I hope I die before you” and “I don’t want to see you blue and cold.” Pernille tries to convince Maj that scientists will create “a pill that gives us eternal life” before either of them die, but Maj clearly is not swayed. Still, the nature of Pernille’s sheltering of Maj keeps Maj from being in constant fear when Sorgenfri is placed under quarantine. It shows most one scene in particular, where Dino, Pernille, and Maj all are watching a home video of a recent vacation they took. Maj is watching giggling, with a huge smile on her face, while Dino and Pernille look broken and depressed. Ironically, the power cuts out while they are watching, and when it returns, Maj turns the TV on to a news report talking about the increasingly dire situation in the town, which to me was a remarkable showing of reality snatching Maj’s happiness away. Another instance of subtlety done well in regards to Maj is the nursery rhymes Pernille tells her. Early in the film, the same scene as the “blue and cold” part, the book Pernille reads Maj is about children who went on vacation with their parents and then are hoping to go again soon, a happy tale with no drawbacks, full of hope for the future (later Pernille comforts Maj by saying “just a little longer, then we’re off on vacation”). Toward the end of the film, after the family’s first encounter with the zombies (Maj was not present), Pernille sings Maj a Danish nursery rhyme about the sun turning red and dying, and a fox outside that they must not let in, a song filled with fear at what comes in the night. The shift between them is a really nice touch to the movie.
Moving on from the main family for a bit, I want to briefly talk about the neighbor couple, Casper and Anna. Casper is a bit older than Anna from the looks of it. At a neighborhood party at the beginning (I believe for the arrival of the new neighbors, Gustav’s love interest Sonja’s family), the two show a lot of PDA that clearly makes Dino and Pernille uncomfortable. Before the softcore makeout between Casper and Anna, Casper is talking to Dino about getting a hunting license, and how he would enjoy it, though Dino does not really care to hunt for deer meat when the butcher opens just as early. Casper then says it is not about the meat, “It’s the thrill of…” before he is cut off by Anna and Pernille walking over. He was very close to saying the thrill of killing, and I loved that. He has this intimidating aura to him, that really was accented by this early scene. Also, where Anna and Casper seem to be that happy couple that never show issues in public, they fall apart behind the scenes, as a part where Casper clears his throat makes Anna paranoid he is infected and she continuously tries to leave, eventually succeeding but being forced back by the zombies. Anna’s character is not much more than a paranoid housewife, but Casper has various traits about him that tell about his past. His demeanor and dialect make him seem like ex-military or military enthusiast. Often he uses words like “recon” and he uses his hunting rifle with proficiency while moving and under pressure, where most hunters are stationary until a deer comes along. Casper was one of my favorite characters because while not much time was devoted to him, he had a lot of depth to him.
Now, I want to touch on the sex in the movie, because I know me saying it serves the characters probably raised some eyebrows. No nudity, as stated. There are only one and a half scenes where sex happens, one being a full one and one getting interrupted before it gets started. They take place between Gustav and Sonja. The two teens barely know each other, but they still latch onto one another and have sex, because teenagers do that in times of stress. None of the adults show any signs of having sex with each other, but Gustav and Sonja do. Personally I think it adds to the characters’ genuinity, which is why I wanted to touch on it.
For the bad prop I mentioned, it was one scene where a deer has been killed in the forest, and Gustav and Sonja find him early in the movie. The blood and gore on him look pretty real, but the deer itself just looked hokey. It was enough for me to consider it worth a mention.
The ending of the movie is another issue I wanted to expand on here because I do not feel bad spoiling it, and it is just so abrupt it needs to be addressed. All of a sudden, zombies are all over the neighborhood. Gustav and Sonja escape the house, Maj turns and kills her parents. Gustav and Sonja are being chased through the woods, pan out, we see smoke pluming up all across the landscape, then we hear the whistle of a nuke dropping. End. It was so quick and I felt like there should have been more leading to it, but I did like that we see a last moment of the country torn to shreds, revealing the virus spread further than Sorgenfri despite the military’s efforts. Still, could have been worse, but it left something to be desired in a bad way.
Okay, now my last expansion is this: this movie takes the trope established by Night of the Living Dead and makes it its own. Our main cast is holed up defending themselves from the outside world, and supporting characters make their way inside and assist them. Eventually, the zombies make it inside and the heroes are defeated. This movie does it in a way that makes it feel like Night of the Living Dead, but does it so originally and well that it becomes its own movie. This is its own movie and deserves to stand alone, but it also is the best Night of the Living Dead remake ever made, if that makes sense. I love this movie more than Night because it takes the concept to a new place in a modern setting. Without a doubt this has become one of my favorite zombie movies because of that.
All in all, I recommend this movie highly to zombie fans everywhere. I have left a lot of surprises and plot out of this section because I feel it necessary to allow the movie to treat you to them unscathed. Even if you are neutral to zombies, check this movie out. The storytelling and characters will keep you entertained if the zombies do not.
Thank you for reading! If you’d like to read more Netflix Dumpster Dive, follow the site. I want to do at least one of these a month if possible, it all depends on work and personal life in conjunction with my other writing. If you want to read my fan’s analysis of the DC Extended Universe click here. If you want to check out my book, click here.
Again, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed!
©2016 Vincent C. Russo. All Rights Reserved.
I claim no rights to any film mentioned here. All rights to these films go to their respective owners. This post is intended for review only, and constitutes fair use.