Today I watched the 2006 American zombie film Automaton Transfusion. Fangoria called it “one of the Top-10 horror films of 2006.” I had several problems with this film, and thought it was terrible. Maybe 2006 was a lean year.
Formulaic and forgettable, Automaton Transfusion tells the story of three high school friends–a good-looking mortician’s son, a tough black guy, and a poor-man’s Jonah Hill–who have adventures when zombies attack their hometown of Grover City. The plot is predictable, and the acting is generally poor. The script betrays itself time and again as not having been written by a smart person. (There are little language-redundancies throughout. Cadavers on a dissecting table are called “dead corpses.” [I know this is a zombie film, but c’mon, aren’t all corpses dead?])
My biggest problem with this film might be its portrayal of the zombie outbreak itself. The onset of a zombie plague has been effectively rendered in a variety of innovative ways in many films. My favorite (and I think just objectively the best) is the one in the remake of Dawn of the Dead. The portrayal of a zombie outbreak in Automaton Transfusion may be the worst I’ve ever seen. In AT, the stages seem to be:
- Everything’s normal (humans walking around, no zombies, etc.)
- Everybody (except the protagonists) suddenly disappears, and the city is completely empty–a ghost town.
- There are suddenly hordes of zombies everywhere.
Where is the missing-stage in which frightened humans run in terror? Where is the chaos and confusion? Where is the breakdown of the rule of law and the descent into mayhem? These delightful (and necessary) aspects of a zombie outbreak are unforgivably absent in Automaton Transfusion.
The characters run “to” and “from” different locations for seemingly no reason. It’s intended to give the film the feel of travel and progress, but is completely ineffective because it makes no sense. There are also awkward temporal shifts between night and day, making it difficult for the viewer to always tell how much time has passed.
Automaton Transfusion‘s highlights are clearly intended to be the physical special-effects shots, some of which do work well. The severed heads and fetuses-torn-living-from-wombs are well executed, and one jaw-ripping-off scene is particularly well-done. A massive zombie/human Braveheart-style battle is also effectively and memorably rendered. Others shots, while ambitious, don’t quite pass muster… such as a scene in which a zombie is impaled through the eye on a shard of glass.
Considering how good some of the effects-shots can be, it’s a disappointment that the zombies in Automaton Transfusion are lousy-looking. Watching a horde of them advance on the protagonists, I imagined what the view must be like from the stage at a GWAR concert.
Late in the film, Automaton Transfusion tries to infuse its lousy plot with a complicated meta-twist, a la Dark City or Jacob’s Ladder. It doesn’t work. I won’t give it away, but the film’s final scene (I don’t say “ending”) is infuriating and unsatisfying. Give this film a pass.