Screenwriter: Akiva Goldsman, Mark Protosevich
Running Time: 101 min
Release date: 26 December
The zombie genre never dies, it just mutates and I Am Legend is the latest sub zombie movie. Technically it doesn't feature the undead, in fact the monsters are not unlike vampires; 'zampires' if you will, but these loose skinned, brain chewing horrors are the latest in this sharply shot Sci Fi from the makers of Constantine.
By no means is it a new story, previous incarnations of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel of the same name is The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971), but what director Francis Lawrence achieves is a personal apocalypse tale. It's economical style leaves out the social commentary and focuses instead on one man's perspective from ground level.
Beginning with a brief appearance by Emma Thompson as civilisation's grim reaper, the story quickly skips along to the devastated streets of New York. The scenery is reminiscent of the opening of 28 Days Later (2002) but with the advantage of a Hollywood budget. Will Smith is Robert Neville, a scientist and survivor, who along with Sam (a dog who should be nominated for best supporting actor) battles the infected in order to find a cure. Smith is the soul of the film and holds it together with his charismatic charm, but this isn't Independence Day or Bad Boys, you won't find Smith punching zombies in central park and shouting 'who da man?'. Smith's performance is low key and thankfully short of wise cracks, playing Neville with a sense of melancholy, loss and distorting reality; his relationship with mannequins, for instance, is simultaneously bizarre and endearing.
The character portrayal is then interrupted by the unsettling sound of Neville's digital watch alarm which is set to go off at dusk. The time frame adds extra punch because our malnourished pals only play at night and as soon as those UV rays are gone we know it's time to get terrified. The action doesn't disappoint, edited to show just the bare essentials we catch only the rarest glimpses at first; a movement in the dark here, a blood curdling scream there, and this leads to full blown CGI creepiness. Watching Neville's eyes glisten with fear as he clasps his hand over the torch light in the midst of a 'hive' of infected is lip chewing tense helped by Beowulf animators' sickly creations.
I Am Legend feeds off a long list of Sci Fi heritage but does so well enough to become an entertaining gem in its own right. It's suggestion that Reggae is humankind's saviour, however, has got to be a new twist.