Despite the saturation of the zombie genre over the past few decades, I still have a soft spot for it. Films like “The Sadness” and “Wyrmwood: Apocalypse” show there’s plenty of fun ideas to still explore within the genre. Then other films seem to simply retread tired clichés, like how humans are worse than zombies or how we’ll fight each other before we fight zombies. Unfortunately, despite an interesting beginning, I’d put “Herd” in the latter category.
Jamie (Ellen Adaiar) and Alex (Mitzi Akaha) are going on a canoe camping trip to repair their breaking relationship. Things get tense during the trip and Alex injures her leg, trapping the duo near Jamie’s hometown, filled with bad memories, two warring factions, and a potentially abusive parent. On top of that, the zombie apocalypse has apparently broken out. While the calamity could provide some fresh meat to the genre, “Herd” goes a lot of predictable routes before it’s finale.
The obvious social commentary in “Herd” is ones we’ve seen before like the breakdown of civilization through overt classism and distrust of one another. “Herd” tries to bring a bit more to the table by offering up the LGBTQ+ relationship of Jamie and Alex. The duo worries about whether or not they’ll be accepted by what few people are left, or as the film title explicitly implies, the herd. It doesn’t necessarily work since the armed men running the show seem more afraid of every cough and sniffle they hear, but it’s clearly a commentary on how small-town acceptance only extends to straight white people.
Other than the commentary, the middle of the film tries to be a character study, focusing on the characters fears and concerns. It would have worked better if the humans and zombies were menacing. Like I said, the men with guns seem more concerned about the other men with guns and every time they hear someone clear their throat. The zombies are slow moving and are covered in boils, yet sometimes seem unconcerned with actually chomping into someone’s flesh. Instead they growl, claw and make gurgling scream sounds.
I’m willing to forgive bad zombie films as long as I’m entertained, but nothing about the “Herd” kept me engaged. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that the ending would somehow pull the rug out from under me or tie everything together in a way that would make my jaw drop. It didn’t, but I’ll give credit for the unpredictable nature of it. There’s a lot of skill, craft and effort in “Herd,” but all of that was bogged down by an uninspired script that made the 97-minute runtime feel like a zombie crawl.