What would the world look like to a zombie? That is the question at the heart of writer/director Julian Grant’s ultra low-budget The Defiled, a semi-experimental film that starts out strong before overstaying its welcome and losing focus on its efforts to subvert the zombie genre.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where most people are either dead or have been turned into flesh-eating beasts by a virus, Brian Shaw plays a character who straddles the line between the world of humans who have maintained the ability to think and reason and the zombie creatures who crave flesh and blood. Shaw’s zombie leads a sort of zombie family that includes a wife, a son, and a daughter. The daughter is pregnant, a fact that Shaw’s zombie seems to understand — he treats her like a proudly expectant grandparent. When his family is wiped out after finding and eating the body of a man who was exposed to radiation, Shaw’s zombie delivers the baby from the corpse. After inadvertently saving an uninfected Woman (Kathleen Lawlor) from two other zombies, Shaw’s zombie shares the responsibilities of taking care of the baby with her. Traumatized, the Woman treats the baby as though it were her own, never mind that it is obviously infected with the virus.

Grant is a confident visual stylist, utilizing a cold blue sheen on top of the black and white digital video image. This not only gives the film an otherworldly feel, but also helps to cover up some of the more dodgy makeup and digital effects littered throughout the story. He also makes great use of abandoned, decrepit buildings in the Chicago and Gary, Indiana, area. The locations chosen lend a tremendous sense of atmosphere that the film would not have been able to recreate on its tiny budget.

Shaw also helps the film along with a great performance that is homage to the traditional zombie films of George A. Romero (It’s probably no coincidence that Shaw bears a strong resemblance to the first zombie seen in Night of the Living Dead) while still displaying the human emotions necessary to make his character work in the story. It’s an impressive bit of physical acting.

Unfortunately, the film loses quite a bit of steam after the 30-45-minute mark. Grant’s decision to tell the entire film without dialogue is bold, but eventually causes confusion and contributes to a frustrating lack of forward momentum. This lack of momentum makes the final hour feel tedious and repetitive.

While Grant’s achievement is impressive, what he has created is a very good short film that has a diluted impact because of the attempt to stretch it to feature length. Despite the surprisingly compelling first act, the film runs out of steam long before the final credits roll.

Matt Wedge is a writer and film critic currently doing time in the suburbs of Connecticut.

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