IFC Midnight’s WHAT WE BECOME Movie Review
What We Become is occasionally gripping and attacks the zombie genre in an admirably realistic manner, but lacks the character or story development to leave a lasting impact.
Ever since the advent of The Walking Dead, the zombie genre has remained in the midst of a re-growth spurt that nearly defies explanation. That isn’t to say that zombies haven’t been done before; George Romero’s “…Of The Dead” franchise started over 40 years ago, 28 Days Later was released over 12 years ago in 2004, and Zack Snyder even remade Romero’s Dawn of the Dead the same year, among others. The genre has spun off into numerous video game franchises, television shows, and movie franchises, and continues to hold public interest across all platforms. Unlike many other classic monsters that have struggled to be revived-Frankenstein, for one-zombies keep moving along very well many years later. With zombies overflowing and over-saturating the marketplace, it rests upon the hands of writers and filmmakers to make a film that has a definitively unique theme or story to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack. What We Become, the first post-apocalyptic zombie movie to come out of Denmark, is the latest attempt to continue the surge of zombies.
What We Become takes a simplistic approach to its storytelling in a very familiar guise; focus on a smaller family unit in a more isolated setting, instead of trying to tackle a global outlook that makes it difficult to attach oneself to any single character, story point or entity. Generally, audiences are able to attach themselves to a family unit and a smaller number of people as it provides a relatable foundation as we all had a family member at some point and are able to establish lasting relationships easier with people in that setting, if at all possible. A family living in a form of suburbia-consisting of Pernille, Dino, Gustav, and Maj, as mother, father, son, and daughter, respectively-are quarantined after a viral outbreak hits their community. The government immediately places the surrounding area in lockdown, refusing to let anyone in or out, and begins systematically removing select individuals during home searches; without any reason or answers given to their families. Anyone attempting to leave is shot on sight.
On paper, the story is not unlike many others that have been done before, with a premise not altogether unique. In this case, the audience sees the events largely through the eyes of Benjamin Engell in the role of Gustav; a stubborn, moody teen who has issues with his parents and authority, but is sweet on his new neighbor Sonja, played by Marie Hammer Boda. Both Engell and Boda do well in their respective roles and even develop some chemistry, but their relationship feels rushed, especially given the sequence of events in the film and the limited time they are around each other. Mille Dinesen is the standout in key moments as Gustav’s mother Pernille, showing a wide dramatic range and hiding torment in her eyes both towards the plight of her family and also the strained relationship with her son. Troels Lyby performs admirably as Dino, Pernille’s husband, in both handling his difficult relationship with Gustav and the burden of being the anchor of the family.
The faults in What We Become are partially tied to the false marketing, that promises a much faster-paced affair than the finished product, and it’s short run time. Marketing a film can be tricky, especially an independent foreign language film to American audiences with no big actors, but it can also mislead a theater with people expecting one type of movie and getting a completely different one. What We Become is much more in line with 2008s Let The Right One In (or the American version in 2010s Let Me In) than a fast paced zombie flick and proper expectations are needed. The second major flaw is that What We Become feels far longer than its short runtime mainly due to the aforementioned pacing and lack of real activity to move the narrative forward. Tension escalates throughout the course of the film, but it is often baseless and serves no purpose towards the progression of the story or characters. Without proper development and no obvious endearing qualities about them, the characters suffer and can leave the film feeling flat and hollow. First-time feature film Writer/Director Bo Mikkelsen does well when building up the tension, and frames a very good looking, well-lit film with a strong emphasis on practical effects. However, as the film relies on his script and steady hand at the helm, it also falls on Mikkelsen to ensure the story flows properly and the audience is invested in the characters. That, unfortunately, is where What We Become falls short and leaves much to be desired.
In spite of its shortcomings, What We Become is an exciting debut for a potential up and coming writer/director in Bo Mikkelsen, enjoys some notably strong performances, and continues to show the wonders, and chills, that stellar work with practical effects can have. It may not reach the upper echelon of zombie films, but it is well worth a watch for any fan of the horror genre.
What We Become is written and directed by Bo Mikkelsen and stars Benjamin Engell, Mille Dinesen, Troels Lyby, and Ella Solgaard.