The zombie genre has seen a lot of Americanized forms under Hollywood’s and US Independent film’s eyes. But when another country like Germany gets a hold of a tale for a brief 62 minutes, it is sure to be unique and memorable. Such as is Rammbock: Berlin Undead (US/Canada release 2010). An action/horror/thriller produced by Sigrid Hoerner, and released by The Collective and Bloody Disgusting Selects that partnered with AMC Theatres to bring independent horror film to screens in the United States in early 2011, we follow lovelorn Michael (Michael Fuith) in Berlin, personally returning a set of keys to his ex-girlfriend, Gabi (Anka Graczyk) while there is an outbreak of a virus that turns people into hungry carnivores. Think 28 Days Later (2002) with a German flavor. One can’t help but compare Rammbock to the 2002 film but there is no particular pathogen like an infected monkey from a medical research lab as a backstory. Only media reports of people biting and infecting others are the narrative. What we are left with is just one man struggling to get back what he lost and we see from his eyes the people he interacts with.
Outside a dirty, worn-down apartment complex, Michael is dropped off by a friend and walks upstairs to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. With the door slightly ajar, Michael calls out his girlfriend’s name but instead sees an older, grizzled, large, and dirty maintenance man (Arno Kölker) struggling with an old heater’s pipe. Then he bumps into the young assistant, Harper (Theo Trebs), whom is asked the location of Gabi. About less than a minute after being introduced to these characters, the maintenance guy spasms and turns on Michael and Harper. Struggling to get the man out, they barricade themselves in Gabi’s apartment with her pet rabbit, Flüffi (Fluffy). In the struggle to usher the old man out the door, Michael loses his mobile phone on the stairwell. Scared to venture out the apartment door, both look outside a window and see some of the carnage in the courtyard area as people are clawing, biting, and scrambling around with a gate left wide open.
With only a few people left alive, TV media reports begin as Michael and Harper are now thrown together to survive a zombie-like apocalypse. Once the television goes, Michael digs out a radio so that both men could be informed as to what’s going on in the city. We see overnight how both of these individuals react to each other and begin to work together to keep safe while Michael is worried for his ex-girlfriend and wonders where she could be in all this carnage.
The few people left in the apartment complex begin talking to each other: one is a large, non-speaking bald-headed gentleman with tattoos, Manni (Carsten Behrendt), an older couple whose wife became recently infected (Steffen Münster and Katelijne Philips-Lebon), a young health-conscious couple (Jörn Hentschel and Emily Cox), and the introduction of Gabi and her new beau, Kai (Sebastian Achilles), as they were taking care of Kai’s mother, Mrs. Bramkamp (Brigitte Kren), who was infected as well but doped up on sedatives to retard the virus’s effects that ultimately fails.
When a happy accident brings Harper to realize harsh light affects the infected at night, Michael, using his engineering skills and seemingly amazing memory to recall spatial geometry, constructs a mobile bicycle cart with strobes and plans an escape for four people into a two-person rowboat to get to a large vessel which is heard across the way in one rooftop scene. Only two survivors make it.
These brief character studies and interactions showed love and care under the most stressful circumstances. How far can a love go without it turning into something brutal and heartbreaking? When life hands you devastation, what is left here in this movie is an underlying essence of humanity at its worst and its finest. Personal choices, up to the very end with Michael and Gabi holding on to each other in a bittersweet and touching denouement, comes off as unfulfilling but leaving you wanting more. Well designed and interpreted, the gore is quite bearable and not as excessive as one might expect in a zombie film. The shorter length of this movie helps because it doesn’t allow the characters or the action to grow stagnant. On the downside, less character development is shown when the action really begins to pick up near the end.
Am I happy with this German interpretation of the zombie genre? Yes. This is a first for writer Benjamin Hessler and I feel it’s a worthy introduction. This particular film had premiered at the 2010 Locarno International Film Festival and played theatrically in Germany and Austria in September 2010 under the UK title, Seige of Berlin. Silke Olthoff won the German Top Editing Award for the successful splicing of the horror and romance genres at the 2011 Schnitt Awards. It had also won for Best Feature Award at the 2010 Vienna Film and the 2011 New Faces Award for actor Theo Trebs.