Dead Rising: Watchtower (2015)

A quarantined city. A deadly conspiracy

Writer: Tim Carter
Director: Zach Lipovsky

Dead Rising: Watchtower is a zombie movie inspired by the 2006 video game Dead Rising, although you don’t need to know that to watch the film. Apart from the presence of the character Frank West and a few reference to the game world this is a stand alone film.

The story is set some years after the original uprising. Rather than taking over the world the zombies have been all but wiped out. There’s still the odd outbreak but anyone unfortunate to be bitten can take the drug Zombrex to keep them human.

At the start of the story here has been an outbreak in the town of East Mission, Oregon. The town’s inhabitants are at an evacuation centre waiting transport and our heroes – two reporters for a news website – are on the scene. Unfortunately this seems to be a mutant strain of the zombie virus and the Zombrex proves ineffective, leading to a large scale outbreak and the town laced in lockdown.

After that it’s initially a fairly standard story of survival and attempting to escape. However part way through it begins to turn into something a little different as we learn that there may be more to the Zombrex failure than just a new virus strain. And by the end it has warped into a completely different story which explains the name ‘Watchtower’ and is far scarier than any zombies.

There is also some nice humour, in particular the comments from West (Rob Riggle) in a distant TV news studio being interviewed by an increasingly irritated news anchor (Susan, played brilliantly by Carrie Genzel).

So Dead Rising: Watchtower tells a good story. It’s technically competent and ticks all the boxes for a zombie movie.

Yet it’s somehow empty. It’s got no atmosphere, no soul, no identity. I watched it with an intellectual interest in the storyline but no feeling of involvement. Even the set pieces (such as the technically superb school bus scene) failed to grab me on any emotional level.

Why? Partly it’s that the main character Chase (Jesse Metcalfe) is such an unlikeable jerk. Partly it’s the direction which is technically competent but flat. Partly it’s the way the action keeps cutting to a distant news studio. Whilst these scenes provide the best humour they also interrupt the flow and break the viewer’s immersion.

Of course that structure will make it easy to put in ad breaks when the film’s shown on TV. Which is probably my real gripe with Dead Rising: Watchtower – it feels like a TV movie. Given Lipovsky’s background in the medium that’s probably not surprising.

So there’s a decent and surprisingly layered story in Dead Rising: Watchtower. Unfortunately the film that arises from that story is flat and unengaging.