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Movie Review: Romeo & Juliet vs. The Living Dead at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2009

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Romeo & Juliet vs. The Living Dead sounds like a ridiculous title that suggests a ridiculous movie. Taking one of literature's greatest stories and slamming it together with the horror sub-genre of the zombie film. But almost in spite, or even because of its ridiculousness, therein lies the potential for a fun motion picture. Well, it's sad then to see such a promising idea squandered; I'm sorry, but this is a lame, unfunny, un-entertaining waste of time that I'm surprised even made it past the scripting stage. 

As I said, Romeo & Juliet vs. The Living Dead takes the classic William Shakespeare tale and merges it with the world of zombies. The movie sets up a world where zombies (or living dead) are an accepted thing, treated as outcasts by the living. Young Juliet's eye is caught by zombie Romeo, and the two form a relationship that is obviously forbidden – or at least, looked down on – by those around them.

Romeo & Juliet vs. The Living Dead is one of those movies that centres around an idea that seems so obvious that it's just gone overlooked over the years. It has potential to be a fun movie, but unfortunately first-time director and co-writer Ryan Denmark doesn't in any way make the most of it. This is an idea that would've been best kept to pages of a short story or within the confines of a short film that could be later flung up on YouTube. Did we really need to sit through 80-plus minutes of this?

The idea of smashing together to very different long-standing ideas isn't something new, but the two that have been brought together here you'd think would make for an oddly fun time. But it's the lazy, unfunny way it has been presented that's the real disappointment. The language is a mixture of Shakespeare mixed with modern-day speak – think along the lines of, "Thou art a zombie," and so forth. The "living dead" are treated as the odd kid in the classroom by everyone else (as you would expect if the scenario of zombies were ever to arise), but the joke only goes so far, like five to 10 minutes-far. The film seems strangely full of itself, treating every any and every instance we see a zombie interact with everyday situations as if it's the first time, and expecting us to laugh after the 40th occurrence. It's just not well done or funny enough to hold up for as long as it goes on for.

It may very well be because it's a low-budget, first-time movie, but, alas, this feels very much like a low-budget, first-time movie. The make-up and blood effects are laughable and totally unbelievable (which is inexcusable in a horror movie, however shoestring-like the budget is), the people playing zombies are entirely unconvincing and the fact that it's shot on a digital camera (probably to keep costs down) gives it a weird look that just doesn't fit. The acting is also pretty bad, something which the film tries to hide by being as silly as possible – but the truth can be seen without any effort whatsoever from the viewer.

If I had to hunt for something within Romeo & Juliet that I liked, the ending is pretty funny as an overall idea, much like a joke where you don't know why you laughed at the punchline because the lead up was so unfunny, but for some reason you did. But that's it, pretty much everything else is terrible. It's right to cut low-budget films some slack because they don't have the financial means that Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg has to play with, but a bad film is a bad film, and being low-budget doesn't excuse you from that.

And besides, there are plenty of similarly low-budget horrors that work tremendously even with their financial constraints – The Descent, Saw, The Blair Witch Project, and Evil Dead to name but a few. There's no excuse. Romeo & Juliet vs. The Living Dead is a real disappointment; a cheesy, hokey, painfully over-stretched movie that thinks it's clever and funny when in fact it's the furthest thing away from either.

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