If you consider the notable films in the last three to four years that take place in a high rise apartment complex in which our protagonist(s) are trapped you’d have a list of pretty impressive action movies. From the international “The Raid:Redemption” to the American production “Dredd” you have a very similar narrative set-up that succeeds in all three cases. But what, you ask, would happen if you took that high-rise action genre formula and threw in just a bit of zombie rage? You’d get 2009’s The Horde, a French action-horror hybrid from directors Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher.
The Horde begins as these films do. A renegade group of police officers storm a building controlled by a crime syndicate in order to dole out an especially violent breed of justice. The first twenty minutes or so fits that trope nearly shot for shot, but then something strange happens: a zombie film breaks out. When the normal brand of these films sets itself up as a video game format, battling through levels of bad guys until you reach the boss level, The Horde dispenses with that formality. The bad guys join forces with the good guys in an attempt to survive the ultimate bad guys, the living dead.
Besides the fact that The Horde brings a zombie to a gun fight, it also brings another nice little wrinkle to the zombie genre. That wrinkle is the fact that no character refers to, or even seems to figure out, the fact that a shot to the head is needed for a proper zombie death. Those rules still apply, and the audience understands that. This causes a certain amount of exasperation for the audience member. When the crowd knows the zombie rules so well, it’s especially aggravating watching our protagonist never quite figure them out. The Horde harnesses this aggravation though, piling it onto the already mounting tension that the admittedly formulaic plot is producing. This adds to aggravation, but it also increases the fear and nervousness of the viewer.
The one thing that The Horde is missing that most successful zombie films excel at is thematic undertones. Besides the most basic “we’re all equal in the end” moral, The Horde leans more towards its action elements. These action elements mean that The Horde is less morality play and more amusement park ride. With characters literally brawling with zombies, moving from set piece to set piece, The Horde is less Romero and more Bay. Granted, it’s a really, really bloody Michael Bay film.
In the end The Horde is not really a full on zombie movie or a complete action movie. It drifts in and out of the tropes of both genres as it hurdles towards its climax. While that is a tricky line to walk, the makers of The Horde mostly succeed in it. Pulling from the best of each genre, The Horde may end up being a bit vacuous, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to watch.