(NOTE: This film is not to be mistaken for Lucy Walker's excellent 2002 documentary about the Amish rite of rumspringa, where Amish teens are allowed to leave the church in explore the world of the English. Now that's a good movie.)
It's not that Mark McQueen's Devil's Playground (on DVD October 11th) is bad, necessarily. It's just that it's completely nondescript. As I sit here, trying to write this review, I find myself fighting to remember details in the film. Nothing of notable consequence happens in this film, which is, perhaps, not a very positive thing to say about a gore-soaked 28 Days Later knock-off. Sure, there are indeed scenes of people getting chunks of their bodies eaten away by bloodthirsty ghouls, and arcs of CGI-created arterial spray do indeed decorate the walls, vans, barn doors and other sets where our main characters are attacked, but every violent scenario was done with only the barest competent amount of filmmaking skill, and every plot conceit was so blandly copied from other zombie films that Devil's Playground never emerges as its own entity.
The film takes place in London where a drug company is testing out a new steroid on the public. The lip service PR given in the film is that people need something stronger than caffeine to get through the day, so a brand new intravenous drug is being made available to the public. But I guess this particular injectable steroid that makes you alert, strong and agile is different from the harder stuff you find on the street. Inexplicably, the drug company has been given 30,000 test subjects in the greater London area. One month after initial tests (or perhaps just 28 days) people have indeed grown stronger and more agile, but they also begin growing black veins across their faces, and developing a hunger for human necks. Curious that they only ever go for the neck.
While the test-drug-turns-people-into-ghouls conceit has been seen in movies before (indeed, wasn't that the setup for the Resident Evil feature film?), Devil's Playground never explains exactly what happens. Why has this drug turned people insane? There's not the perfunctory scene where some wonk in a lab coat explains what's happening to the human brain. People are now mad cannibals, and that's that. Oh, and their saliva spreads the infection, so good luck.
The word “zombie” is never said in the film, which is kind of a relief. As in 28 Days Later, people just seem to be infected with rage, resilience, speed, and a need to eat their fellow men. However, seeing as some of the characters in the film speak in indecipherable Welsh accents, I had to turn on the DVD's subtitle track for a few passages, and found that, in subtitles, the ghouls are indeed described as “zombies.” Okay then. Devil's Playground is not a disappointing and nondescript monster flick. It’s a disappointing and nondescript “zombie” flick. Given the way zombies have proliferated in popular culture in the last few years (the CDC itself, if you'll recall, issued instructions on how to survive a zombie outbreak last year), people may find any appearance of their favorite monster to improve a film. For them, I offer encouragement to go hog wild.
The hero of the film is a secret service badass named Cole (Craig Fairbrass) who is trying to live down his past as an assassin, and is infected by ghoulishness early in the film. He has to, every six hours, inject himself in the thigh to fight off the virus. He does take a lot of abuse throughout the film, though, and he's constantly bleeding from one open wound or another, which left me concerned that he'd bleed out his medicine. It's Cole's job to locate and protect the blonde Angie (MyAnna Buring), the only person who is possibly immune to the ghoulishness.
From there, Devil's Playground follows the usual spate of zombie clichés. Having to hide out in a barn. Having to work their way to a helicopter. The pair of conniving jerks who want to leave healthy people behind. Debate as to who gets to escape first. It's explained that the sought-after helicopter only seats four people, and there are seven in their party. This means less a moral question as to who gets to go first, and more an accurate prediction that three people will die before they get to their destination. Indeed, people die, but there's not emotional weight to their deaths. They're just sacks of potential rubbery, blood-soaked viscera as portrayed by actors.
CRAVEONLINE RATING: 2/10