The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers
PJ (Julia Barretto) is a studious med student whose dad, Mario (Ian Veneracion), tries all he can to provide for her. She resents her father for working abroad in her childhood, leaving her alone during painful moments in her life, like the death of her mom. During one of her rounds at the hospital within the campus, they encounter a patient (Ina Raymundo) with a human bite mark on her leg and very quickly presents rabies symptoms and eventually flatlines. Later, when two other med students attempt to bring the body to the morgue, it reanimates and unleashes a terrifying pandemic. PJ, along with her friends and a ragtag team of people left inside the campus, attempt to fight their way through a zombie-riddled school to await rescue.
The Short, Honest Plot
It's a love team vehicle that attempts to be a zombie movie attempting to be an allegory of something bigger.
The Actors And Where You Last Saw Them
Julia Barretto as Princess Joy aka PJ
Joshua Garcia as Lucas
His last foray on the big screen was in 2018's I Love You, Hater co-starring Julia Barretto. He was also in the recently concluded teleserye The Killer Bride.
Ian Veneracion as Mario
A popular young actor in the '90s, Ian Veneracion regained fame recently after his stint in the Pangako Sa 'Yo reboot with Jodi Sta. Maria. Prior to Block Z, his last films were 2017 horror flicks Bliss and Ilawod.
Maris Racal as Erika
McCoy De Leon as Myles
A Pinoy Big Brother alum, McCoy De Leon was last seen in the 2020 film D'Ninang, starring Ai-Ai Delas Alas.
Did You Know?
2. This is the fifth film that features the JoshLia love team. The first was Vince & Kath & James in 2016 and the last was 2018's I Love You, Hater.
3. While we're pretty used to the zombie genre in film and television, this is actually the first large-scale zombie movie in the Philippines, according to Mikhail Red.
4. The film mentions people who are genetically immune to certain viruses like HIV, and this is completely true.
5. Spoiler alert! Angel Locsin makes a cameo in this film and people are already speculating that it might be a set up for a sequel.
What I Think:
Apparently, this film is "the first large-scale zombie movie" in the Philippines, but it doesn't feel like it. It feels very much like a rehash of typical zombie tropes. There's a "patient zero" who comes in still human with an unknown bite, dies, and suddenly is reanimated into a crazed zombie who starts infecting people willy-nilly. Then there's the unlikely group determined to survive an impossible situation, hacking and shooting randomly until they realize shooting them in the brains does the trick.
It's really nothing you haven't seen, even if you haven't seen plenty of zombie movies before.
I'm not just the zombie aspect of it that felt like a rehash. The backstories were also rudimentary, the characters were one dimensional. The protagonist, PJ, is a goody-goody who is solidly middle class, her small group of friends consisted of the heartthrob baller courting her, her flirty best gal, and another boy who is the "quiet type." There's also a lady security guard who works hard to provide for her family, the one-note student council leader with daddy issues and a mean streak.
The plot is painfully predictable. Whatever happens, you just know that Julia Barretto and Joshua Garcia will make it to the end. It's their movie, this is a big blockbuster, you don't kill either half of the love team. You just don't. As a result, this film just doesn't have real stakes, nor does it take real risks in storytelling.
The technical aspects of the film like action shots you'd see in a Hong Kong action movie, or the dramatic lighting that recalls a Nicolas Winding Refn film, or really cool prosthetic makeup are Block Z's greatest strengths. I could see where director Mikhail Red might be pushing the envelope or achieving something ambitious, it's just disappointing that he chooses to test the limits of Philippine cinematic technique on a plot that is so bland.
There's room for zombie movies that serve no other purpose than horror film thrills, but Block Z tries to touch on serious themes half-heartedly. There's campus activism that doesn't go anywhere (because they all turn into zombies), and a character corrupted by his own privilege and upbringing, but was written so thinly, he was relegated to token bad guy not worth much audience attention. There was also a harrowing scene of a military takeover that ought to have been impactful and timely, but only felt inert as though the film was trying to get political, but not too political for people to notice.
There are a lot of scenes in this film that don't feel earned, like the student protests and the hero shots of Julia Barretto's character in the end. The set up and resolution also feel rushed to give zombies the most air time. The director called this film "Zombie 101," and it feels like it—packed with action and typical zombie lore, but that's it.
I'd Recommend It To:
People who are easily scared when watching horror flicks. While it's quite gruesome with all the blood, it's really not that scary. It's actually quite funny at some points, making it a pretty okay introduction if you want to try watching more horror or even zombie movies.