Sydney Film Festival Review: Goal of the Dead (France, 2014)

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Is it too much of a stretch to imagine a crowd of rabid soccer fans turning into a mob of hyper-violent, destruction-hungry rioters?

Such is the question when gearing up to watch a two-part French horror film which quite proudly displays it’s mixed-genre glory in it’s trailer. It isn’t hard too understand what’s going on in Goal of the Dead, directors Benjamin Rocher and Thierry Poiraud – who each directed parts one and two respectively – have made it quite clear that this is a fusion of sport action and zombie horror, brought to the viewer with a fairly linear plot focused on raising the absurdity higher and higher until it’s almost impossible to take the movie seriously. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing here. On paper, this movie looks like another throwaway to add to the piles of gimmicky horror that have dragged the genre to the dirt in recent years, but Goal of the Dead is a new monster; the creators have a simple and fairly effective approach, choosing to split the movie in half with the first focusing on the sport aspect of the film while it slowly morphs into the second, outbreak sequence; and then quite awkwardly blends together at the end.

Setting the movie up is a slow process, while common sporting movie tropes are kicked at us with dizzying speed. Big-time soccer squad Olmpique de Paris are visitors in the small town of Caplongue, where they are to be matched up against the hometown team. Tensions are uncovered quickly by revealing star player Sam Lorit (Alban Lenoir) and his backstory as a once loved resident of Caplongue (perhaps too loved) who has become the subject of hatred for pretty much every townsfolk alive, particularly Lorit’s weedy childhood friend Jeannot (Sebastian Vandenberghe).

Jeannot is star player of the hometown team and is feeling the pressure of the inevitable showdown, so naturally he agrees to let his revenge-hungry father inject him with some contaminated steroids, turning Jeannot into a colossal bloodthirsty maniac. It’s a plot which doesn’t inspire much confidence during the first half an hour of the film, but with smart direction – including full use of the French countryside – and some truly gorgeous production, Goal of the Dead manages to hold interest long enough for the film to find its feet.

A commendable and genuinely funny performance from Lorit’s teammate, the arrogant prodigy Idriss (Ahmed Sylla) injects some much needed personality into the long bus trip at the start, while flashes to a disparate group of childish Caplongue residents introduces the other brunt of the film’s comedic team. While a sense of playfulness is established, Jeannot is quietly running around frenzied, constantly screaming out for Lorit in ridiculously hammy fashion.

The depiction of Jeanot as a zombie is quite interesting. Gone are the groaning, slow-moving type most zombie movies love to play around with; this is more a man who has rapidly turned into an excessively violent lunkhead who just so happens to be super fast and can’t help spewing a horrendous projectile vomit onto those who cross his path. This vomit is seemingly the catalyst for infection, and hence the disease spreads like wild fire once the movie gets into the centre of its story.

A few practical jokers drag along in the story line, adding humorous breaks to the carnage as it spreads around town. Driven by these smart bits of humour and a hidden familial twist which is actually a bit surprising, the film manages to lift interest whenever it shows a chance to becoming too stale. For a movie with a D-Grade plot, that’s pretty damn impressive.

The female leads fall quickly behind, with Charlie Bruneau as a negligible news reporter who fades ever so distant into the background only to pop up just when the lead needs an inorganic love interest (every horror film needs a love interest!), and Tiphanie Daviot introduced only to ground the leads back story a bit more and give us a little a twist to chew on while we refuse to digest the surprisingly lack of gore.

While excessive and ridiculous gore always marks a horror film that is trying to fill a massive void, Goal of the Dead opts to give only a splash here and there of head-rolling gross-out moments and with all the mayhem going on, it could have served the film well to at least throw in a bit more tongue-in-cheek violence during the less interesting scenes, which usually had to do with stretching the sport satire beyond just the field.

The quite explicit parody of soccer hooliganism speaks well to the heart of the film, reminding you that even though the film is absurd, it is just as ridiculous as the mob mentality which is constantly seen throughout the world whenever a major sporting event doesn’t play into people’s expectations.

Ultimately, Goal of the Dead neither excels as a sports movie nor a horror movie, but rather sits in the middle with an endearing sense of humour. Nothing here is taken seriously, which surely helps the film trudge along nicely and gives you some good ol’ fashioned brainless entertainment. Unfortunately the shots at satire miss the mark, as does the character development, but if you’re comfortable enough to overlook a few things then Goal of the Dead is far beyond the flop the title suggests.

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Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Runtime: 120 Minutes

Goal of the Dead is currently screening at the Sydney Film Festival with the final screening to take place on June 15. More information and tickets can be found HERE

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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy-Editor-At-Large of the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.