Inmate Zero is a pretty generic title for a zombie flick. But, it does have the benefit of not only fitting the story, but letting any potential viewers know what they’re in for. It’s a much more honest approach than giving a movie an evocative title and then failing to deliver, à la The Thirsty Dead. That’s just a con. Either way, Inmate Zero, as basic a title as that may be, is still much better than Patients of a Saint, the title under which this film was originally released. That is just awful. This is a zombie flick, not some agonizing Jane Austen romance.
From earlier this year, Inmate Zero comes to viewers via screenwriters Matthew J. Gunn and Russell Owen, with Owen also directing. At an isolated prison on an island off the coast of Ireland (played by the former prison in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England), condemned criminals from around the world have been gathered. There, they are offered the opportunity to participate in medical experiments in exchange for commutation of their sentences to life imprisonment.
The hero of our story is Stone (Jess Chanliau). Stone used to be in US Special Forces, and later served on the protection detail of a US senator. But, she’s now in the prison awaiting execution, convicted of killing the senator and his entire family. Of course, she didn’t really do it. This film is full of blood and guts, but god forbid the main protagonist be a murderer.
She’s offered a spot in the experiments, but wisely turns it down. That’s because, and there’s no way a viewer will not see this coming, the treatments turn people into zombies.
Owen and company don’t waste a lot of time getting to the zombie stuff. Usually in a film like this, there’s a rundown of the principal characters before things jump off. Not here. There’s no character development beyond the quick info viewers are given about Stone. What viewers need to learn about other characters is done through blunt force. The bad prison guard, Woodhouse (Raymond Bethley), is shouty from the start. The good guy prison guard, Lennon (Brian McGovern), is shown as hopelessly naïve. And the resident shrink, Brooks (Philip McGinley), is the very personification of meekness. Later, after a bunch of blood has been spilled, other prisoners join this small band of holdouts in this miniature zombie apocalypse, most notably Jamaican prisoner Butcher (Jennifer Joseph), and the warden, Crowe (Jane Garda).
A prison is a neat environment for a zombie flick. Prisons are imposing structures, but especially in England, where old ones like Shepton Mallet are literally medieval. The walls of the prison are old stone, and the interior is cold concrete, painted in government beige and green. Prisons are a horror show already. Adding zombies ups the ante.
The location isn’t used to its full effect in this film, however. It happens to be where the movie takes place, but as easily as people and zombies move about in the prison, it may as well have been a hospital or a college dorm. It’s something of a lost opportunity.
For the most part, the cast was fine. Bethley was the most believable of the bunch, his tightly wound character as much of a menace as the zombies. But then there was Chanliau. Oh, boy. I have an affinity for shitty movies. We all know this. That means I have seen some of the worst performances ever put to film. The list will be familiar to the few loyal readers out there. Eva Mendes in Ghost Rider, Sienna Guillory in any Resident Evil flick she’s in, Ernie Reyes, Jr., in Red Sonja, and, of course, Robbi Morgan in Friday the 13th. Chanliau’s performance joins these monuments to ineptitude, her crime against acting being a stout refusal to enunciate her lines in any intelligible fashion, or to convey emotion. She appeared to be an amateur who was in way over her head. She was only the star of the film, though, so no harm done.
Inmate Zero is some well-worn territory. There’s a lot of zombie fatigue amongst horror watchers. The amount of content, varying only in surface details, that’s available to viewers make zombie horror a tired genre. But, it’s no more tired of a genre than a turkey sandwich is a tired food. Inmate Zero doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, which is no problem. What fails this film are not its ideas, but, like so many other bad films, its execution.
Of final note, sharp-eyed readers will notice that all the prisoners in this film are women, but this is not a ‘women in prison’ flick. The screenplay barely registers the characters as being female. I don’t know the story behind the production, but it’s possible this was written with the idea of boilerplate males playing the prisoners, and then the filmmakers decided to cast women. The Stone and Butcher characters are tailormade for a typical action star. I don’t think having females play these typically male roles hurts this film, but nor do I feel it advances the cause of equal representation of the sexes in film. It turns out that generic is generic, no matter what gender plays it.
Inmate Zero is about as flashy as a cheap horror flick can get. It moves along nicely, but overall watchability is hurt by the weak lead, rote presentation, and lost potential. More spectacle would have improved things greatly. Inmate Zero takes over the #178 spot in the Watchability Index from Growth. There are much livelier shitty movies to choose from.