Rammbock (Marvin Kren, 2010)

In the third of 12 posts, film critic Neil Fulwood flies us across the globe to Germany in search of the ultimate zombie movie.

Welcome to Germany, home of Oktoberfest, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and several tip-top automobile manufacturers. Not that Michael (Michael Fuith) is paying much attention to the make and model of car that drops him off in Berlin. He’s busy conjuring up a strategy to get back together with estranged girlfriend Gabi (Anka Graczyk). Thus far, the plan consists of: (a) turn up unannounced at her apartment, (b) wing it. Yup, we’re in standard romantic drama territory: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, bunch of zombies make the scene and completely louse up the boy-gets-girl-back part.

Finding Gabi out and a plumber and his young apprentice working on the radiator, Michael settles down to wait for his beloved’s return. At which point the plumber reveals himself as zombified and definitely not CORGI accredited. Michael and the apprentice – Harper (Theo Trebs) – form a generation-gap alliance to fight off their undead aggressor and shore up Gabi’s apartment against further hordes.

Rammbock takes place not in the tourist-brochure Berlin of Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz and Charlottenburg Palace, but a run-down, backstreet Berlin of anonymous streets and utilitarian apartment blocks hemming in grubby courtyards. The film exploits claustrophobia as well as tapping into a seam of paranoia about what might be happening behind a neighbour’s curtains or venetian blinds. A key scene has the traditional small band of mismatched survivors trying to communicate from their apartment windows without attracting the ravenous zombies stumbling about in the courtyard below them. It’s like watching a Mike Leigh zombie film that grimly homages Rear Window.

Made on the lowest of budgets and clocking in at just over an hour, Rammbock presents a refreshing and thoughtful approach to the material. The survivors behave in recognisably human ways, rather than making the illogical but narrative-serving decisions so typical of horror movie characters. At one point, Harper speculates as to the viability of a home-made weapon and Michael, aghast, responds that the zombies “are still people”. It’s a quiet but poignant moment of anti-violence in a genre renowned for its viscera, and vindicated later when Harper hits upon a means of outrunning the zombies by disorientating rather than killing them.

That said, the threat is omnipresent and director Marvin Kren keeps the tension at an agitated simmer. An extended sequence where Michael and Harper escape Gabi’s compromised apartment develops into a hair’s-breadth pursuit through a neighbouring property during which they try to find sanctuary in an increasingly cramped and vulnerable series of hiding places. The payoff is unexpected: Michael’s reunion with/rejection by Gabi facilitates his sudden emergence onto the apartment’s rooftop. In the only real vista Rammbock presents, Berlin is a ravaged entity: fires, explosions, chaos. For one moment, Michael is a candidate for suicide: a man who has lost everything standing on the ledge of a high place. In a Hollywood production, his decision to the contrary would be a tub-thumping piece of emotional manipulation. Here, it’s arrived at calmly and pragmatically. With everything in the balance and nothing guaranteed, the film and its protagonist earn their humanity.

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One thought on “Rammbock (Marvin Kren, 2010)

  1. Pingback: Doomsday (Neil Marshall, 2008) | Dawn of the Unread

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