THIS WEEK IN MOVIES: Army of the Dead, The Retreat

Army of the Dead (USA, 2021): I’m not the biggest Zack Snyder fan (three words: Batman v Superman), but the man knows spectacle, not unlike Christopher Nolan (spare me the hate mail). Going back to the subgenre that gave him his first triumph? Savvy move by Snyder.

Army of the Dead is blood-soaked fun: It doesn’t ask much of the viewers, just two and a half hours of their time and a firm stomach. After being destroyed by a zombie outbreak, Las Vegas is not a place you want to be, unless you’re after all the money left behind. A ragtag group of mercenaries headed by Dave Bautista breaks into the city to ‘rescue’ 200 million dollars. As you would expect, the heist goes awry and the undead gain the upper hand.

While not as tense as Snyder’s Dawn of the DeadArmy works in similar ways: The characters are better drawn than in the average zombie romp, the action is fluid and the production design is rich (bordering on excessive). The filmmaker goes with fast, mildly intelligent zombies, an upgrade that doesn’t pay off as much as it should.

Like Ridley Scott and James Gunn before him, Zack Snyder makes good use of Dave Bautista’s vulnerability behind those bulging biceps. Another bit of genius casting is the one of comedian Tig Notaro as a hard-ass helicopter pilot. Turns out she was born for the role.

There are plot points that make no sense (what better place to reconnect with your daughter than during a zombie apocalypse), but overall Army of the Dead is enjoyable to watch. Extra points for using The Cranberries’ “Zombie” appropriately. Three planets (out of five).

Army of the Dead is now playing on Netflix.

The Retreat (Canada, 2021): While one can only applaud the arrival of a Canadian LGBTQ-friendly horror movie, the fact that is a run-of-the-mill cabin-in-the-woods flick is a bit of a letdown.

Valerie and Renee (Sarah Allen and Tommie-Amber Pirie), a couple on the cusp of moving forward or moving on, put their relationship drama on pause for a vacation in the woods of Ontario. As it happens every single time, they cross paths with a couple of psychos. These ones target gays for their snuff channel.

Directed by Pat Mills (GuidanceDon’t Talk to Irene), The Retreat flirts with a couple of interesting ideas—the evangelical right as a bloodthirsty bunch, reverse torture porn—but chooses not to pursue them. In fact, the film pulls its punches every time the possibility of breaking with the norm presents itself. It’s never uncomfortable, morally or otherwise.

The acting is above average: Rossif Sutherland and Aaron Ashmore are known quantities and Tommie-Amber Pirie continues her streak of being the best part of so-so movies, but In the end, the feeling of being-there, done-that prevails. Two planets (out of five).

The Retreat is now available in VOD.