“Rammbock: Berlin Undead” is the first film in a summer series exclusive to Baltimore’s AMC White Marsh theater until the end of August. The series, a collaboration between AMC, entertainment management company The Collective and horror website BloodyDisgusting.com, will bring a different horror movie from international and festival film circuits to White Marsh each month. Chesapeake Family will review the entire series; the next film, “YellowBrickRoad,” hits theaters June 1.
German horror film ‘Rammbock’ doesn’t revolutionize the zombie genre, but deftly navigates the emotional trauma humans experience when on the brink of societal collapse
by Roxana Hadadi
Zombie movies all have some typical plot points, courtesy of George A. Romero’s numerous flicks and more modern ones like “28 Days Later”: Loved ones get bitten, the undead develop a mob mentality, people start backstabbing each other, everything gets totally screwed up. Who’s ruining society more, the monsters or us? It’s so hard to tell!
German horror flick “Rammbock,” the country’s first zombie film, has all those elements we already know, so what happens isn’t really a surprise. The deftness with which the 2010 film handles those familiar plot developments, though, helps the hour-long “Rammbock” move along at a brisk pace, effectively displaying how rapidly the world around us can turn to hell. Other films, like Romero’s classic “Dawn of the Dead,” and AMC TV show “The Walking Dead,” adapted from the comic by Robert Kirkman, show us the tediousness that comes with apocalypse, the infuriating period when humans wait for news, for rescue, for something to get better. Will it? Probably not.
In “Rammbock,” there’s no such expansiveness: The zombies are suddenly everywhere, trying to chomp your flesh; much like “Dawn of the Dead” was set in a shopping mall, “Rammbock” is set in an apartment complex, meaning super-claustrophobia as the undead circle around the remaining humans. There’s not much goriness here, but it’s the emotional toll that’s greater – the question of whether loyalty remains in people who have fully and unalterably become something else.
The film focuses on Michael (Michael Fuith), still reeling from his breakup with Gabi (Anka Graczyk), whom he dated for seven years. Hoping for a reconciliation, he unexpectedly shows up to her Berlin apartment to return his keys – but she’s nowhere to be found, and not answering her cell phone, either. It’s while Michael is waiting for her that a plumber suddenly morphs into a zombie in the apartment, catching Michael and the plumber’s teenage assistant Harper (Theo Trebs, who looks like a young Stephen Dorff) completely off guard. Together they overpower him, but Michael loses his cell phone in the hallway – and the only safe place is Gabi’s apartment, which Michael and Harper are now stuck in. The cell phone, their only mode of communication, remains lost outside, with the pair too rattled to get it.
They’re not alone – other people in the adjacent apartment building arrive at their windows to show that they too are still human – but the plumber has reinforcements: dozens of other tenants who have inexplicably turned. Ambulances and police sirens scream in the distance, but when the cops show up, they’re also zombies; with the gate to the apartment complex open, more undead stream in by the minute. People become infected the typical zombie way, by getting bitten or coming in contact with infected fluids, the TV news says – but soon the stations go out. With no food and nothing to do, Michael and Harper start unraveling, especially with no feasible way to escape and no idea of whether anywhere safe still remains.
And so it goes, as all zombie movies do: Michael and Harper make rash decisions, get themselves boxed into terrifying situations, have to figure out ways to survive, must decide if the other humans still alive are worth trying to save. Though the zombies here aren’t as manic or frantic as we’ve come to expect in U.S. horror films, we understand Michael’s and Harper’s terror: The undead move with one mind, they come out of nowhere, they’re relentless in their quest for flesh. The pair try to combat them, but Michael is too preoccupied with concern for Gabi, causing Harper to grow frustrated with Michael’s inability to concentrate on their own safety. “If I didn’t believe that, I’d hang myself,” Michael says when Harper asks if he’s sure Gabi is alive, and the morbid truth lends an even more somber tone to a film already defined by despair.
Within only 61 minutes, the film does a lot: It probes what kind of relationships are the most important as we near the end; demonstrates the silly faux-professionalism our society uses to explain its worst problems (“Their methods don’t seem … to be organized,” says one ridiculous news pundit when trying to describe the zombie uprising); and displays how terrible and selfish humans can be, even when faced with others who would sacrifice everything for them. The heartbreaking and terrifying moments come one after another, from an old zombie woman who horrifyingly brings to mind the witches in Italian classic “Suspiria” to a scene where Michael stands on the roof and overlooks the burning, chaotic Berlin, going to hell with no one strong enough to save it.
“Rammbock” is rated R, but it’s not nearly as bloody as some other zombie flicks. The undead swarm humans, but only one scene shows them biting chunks off a victim; there are other transition scenes, with humans transitioning into zombies with white-out eyes, foaming mouths and flaking skin. The emotional tolls are worse: Family members watch relatives die and turn against them, and a man hangs himself. The film’s final two scenes in particular are some of the weightiest the genre has seen lately.
Those looking for an all-out gore-fest may not be too into “Rammbock,” as the film spends too much time thinking to indulge any torture porn fantasies. The claustrophobia and paranoia “Rammbock” dreams up, though – from the zombies’ first otherworldly screams to dark and shadowy hallways, full of unseen threats – are gripping enough.