It seems that despite the well of zombie movies being well and truly tapped dry, people are still able to come up with relatively fresh and exciting ideas for the genre. Take Fantasia Film Festival’s Yummy for instance, a zombie movie set in dubiously ethical eastern European cosmetic surgery hospital brought to us by Lars Damoiseaux.
The tagline of the movie is ‘facelifts, boob jobs and zombies’ which goes someway to informing you of the tongue in cheek and crude comedic horror journey you have in store for you with Yummy and the film certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
We follow young couple Alison (Maaike Neuville) and Michael (Bart Hollanders) as well-meaning Michael is driving Alison to the aforementioned cosmetic surgery clinic to get a breast reduction. Alison’s mother (Annick Christiaens) also tags along to get various nips and tucks whilst she’s there.
At the clinic we meet various doctors and owners with secrets to hide (spoilers: the secret is zombies), a pick-up artist hospital assistant, Daniel, who hangs around to have sex with women post-surgery and a few other notable characters who will, as is inevitably the case, become our rag-tag group fighting for survival when the proverbial zombie hits the fan.
Yummy certainly has a sharp wit, but a meaner darkly comic streak as it uses the plastic surgery setting to great, grisly and gory effect. When the outbreak starts the film finds ways to incorporate liposuction and chemical peeling into its reel of memorable deaths, the liposuction is reversed, causing someone to literally explode showering a room in liquid fat and blood, and the chemical peeling isn’t removed in time, leading to a ladies face being eaten by acid.
The practical special effects throughout the film are delightfully morbid and gory. The aforementioned liposuction explosion is disgusting but thrilling in an ‘I can’t believe they just did that’ kind of way. But it’s not alone, there are axe impalements, one character shreds his entire arm off, another is graphically crushed by a car twice and one particularly zombie, shown eating itself and missing the best part of the bottom half of its body is wonderfully created, and a standout amidst a mostly generic undead horde.
But perhaps the most mean-spirited moment of the film belongs to a poor man who, having just undergone penis enlargement surgery, attempts to have sex one last time before he dies, only to inadvertently set his penis on fire, completely freeze it with the resulting use of a fire extinguisher, and snaps it off, only to then get killed by a horde of zombies.
The film also pulls no punches with its acerbic handling of the hapless Michael in a reversal of the typical hero’s journey. Not only is he a failed doctor due to having a phobia of blood that causes him to faint or vomit, something that comes into play regularly, but he’s also generally useless during a zombie outbreak.
This becomes a running gag where he’s so clumsy, useless and hazardous to himself, and others, throughout the film. Whenever he tries to help he usually makes things worse. It’s funny because it’s so cruel, particularly when he’s about to have a hero-moment when he fashions a crude explosive device to blow open a locked door, only for his own girlfriend to ridicule him by revealing it’s a sliding door and not a pull/push door.
Indeed, it is Michael who causes the chaos in the first place when he discovers a struggling woman strapped to a gurney in a dark and shady part of the hospital. Not being able to help himself, Michael unwittingly takes off her mask, which allows her to escape and start the mini zombie apocalypse. After a while Michael’s mistakes become less funny, and more pitiable.
It’s worth noting that, thankfully, Yummy avoids this kind of bodily exploitation towards the women, while there is some topless-ness shown and one particularly ill-advised shot of a woman’s bum later on, most of the graphic mutilation is fully targeted at men, which is definitely to the film’s credit. The objectification of women by men and misogyny seem to be a clear, if not ambiguous, target of Damoiseaux, with not even the calamitous Michael escaping from the film’s ire.
Sadly, the film stops clear of really having anything to say about the predatory nature of cosmetic surgery as an industry or any of the morals or ethics that surround it. It’s simply used as a backdrop for zombie-based carnage we haven’t already seen before. The same applies to its group of characters who are pretty much just lambs to the slaughter, even when the film has finished it’s unclear what the point of it all was, what the message we’re supposed to take away is.
With the exception of Alison and Michael, almost every other character is missing depth and personality. They’re also shallow, abhorrent and despicable, to the point that most of them deserve their fate and none of them are worth feeling sorry for. This plays into the film’s mean-streak, but it does mean that, outside of visceral enjoyment of torture porn, there’s no real emotional hook to get the audience invested.
Ultimately Yummy’s plot isn’t particularly original or ground-breaking for the genre, and neither is the film itself. But it does help set-up an atmosphere and tone that allows for a slightly amusing, yet cruel mean streak to undercut proceedings.
This, plus some genuinely fun carnage and gore, is what carries Yummy all the way to its ending which openly laughs in the face of happy endings and rips out the heart of the film for what’s supposed to be one last biting moment. It’s consistent with the tone the film sets-up but it’s a step too far in terms of mean-spirited-ness for what was a mostly enjoyable flick. But, its definitely the kind of film you can watch with your friends and have a great time with.
For more reviews and interviews, check out our Fantasia Film Festival 2020 coverage here