Filipino American former/first-ever ONE Heavyweight Champion Brandon Vera’s career turn toward acting in the last several years has made a few notable strides. Erik Matti’s Anne Curtis-starrer, BuyBust, certainly had its highs with Vera sharing the mantle and pulling more than his weight, enough to now proffer him up to action fans in a perspective turn for a lead role that now brings us his newest venture into action-horror with The Ghosting director Joey De Guzman’s latest, Day Zero.
It’s been eight years since ex-soldier Emon (Vera) was arrested and incarcerated for getting into a deadly brawl. With his parole coming up, the first and only priority is to stay out of trouble, especially if it means he gets to reunite with his wife Sheryl (Mary Jean Lastimosa), and meet his hearing-impaired daughter, Jane (Freya Fury Montierro), as a free man. Despite this, however, and aside from uncouth inmates looking to test his resolve, only one major problem stands in Emon’s way: a fatal dengue outbreak plaguing the nation by killing its victims and reanimating them as rabid zombies, and it’s only a matter of time before the country falls completely under siege. With the help of friend and fellow inmate Timoy (Pepe Herrera), it’s up to Emon to tread through the chaos, find his family, rescue them from their swarmed tenement building and be the hero his family needs.
De Guzman’s approach to the zombie genre here isn’t unlike anything horror fans haven’t already seen. The risks here are all too common in that the film treads heavily on familiar tropes and story points, like momentary jump scares and obvious red flags characters tend to ignore, which can be annoying or even hilarious depending on your filter. What’s important, however, is De Guzman’s ability to convey mostly solid writing and characterization, with elements easily recognizable from other films that truly elevate the film’s delivery.
Vera’s performance is a decent and moving portrayal of a father, a man at the right place at the wrong time and compelled to do the right thing, even if it’s against his own best interests. Unremarkably, Sheryl doesn’t even believe him, which I thought was amusing, while their love and caring for Jane is highly visible throughout the film. That Jane is only a child, mute and hard of hearing which leaves her so vulnerable during the peril almost certainly raises the stakes at every turn, especially when all she has is a bell to let Sheryl know her whereabouts, and it could mean her downfall.
Also of import is De Guzman’s apt understanding of what it takes to make a fun, dark flick. Even if some of the scenes tend to be a little absurd, Day Zero never runs short on its propulsive intensity and excitement when the time comes to kick a little zombie ass, and with none other than Vera kicking most of it in droves. De Guzman even lets loose a little more in the second half, if only for what can be described as the best three minutes of zombie killing you’ll see this year with Vera putting on his best show of screenfighting force since BuyBust, featuring stunt sequences by Jearome Calica and Erwin Tagle, and with De Guzman and cinematographer Mo Zee doing some pretty cool camera stuff mid-action.
There’s little doubt at this juncture that Vera is putting in the work required to leave as much of an impression as possible as a burgeoning action star. It shows in his acting and performance caliber, which is part and parcel of the required balance needed to be an actor who can perform physical and cinematic action, and with De Guzman invoking a sense of brio and savviness in his filmmaking that is sure to get him places at this rate after Day Zero.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.