Zom-com “Brain Freeze” has its heart in the right place, yet still arrives DOA. [Fantasia International Film Festival]

Fine, let’s just get it out of the way: I am not a very big fan of zombie films on the base level. There are many other things that can make a zombie film good, that I can identify with and come to love, but I can think of no time when I found a film to be good simply because it has zombies in it. My thought process is completely flipped when it comes to video games, so I’m not sure why movie zombies function any differently, but they’ve always been my biggest blind spot in horror simply because I never have felt like I’ve needed to fill it. What has, arguably, been one of the biggest cash cows from the zombie sub-genre is that of the zombie comedy, from the OG Shaun of the Dead to Zombieland to the rom-com Warm Bodies. There was no shortage of lighthearted, flesh-eating zombie content to sate your rabid hunger in those days, but nothing lasts forever, and audiences don’t identify with zombies as much as they do increasingly fucked-up spirits with daddy issues. So the emergence of the French-Canadian zom-com Brain Freeze, among the horde of heavy, often pandemic-themed films at Fantasia, ended up with even I, the most ambivalent person to zombies ever, welcoming it as a lighthearted shift from the sometimes overwhelming norm.

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L-R: Iani Bédard and Claire Ledru in Julien Knafo’s BRAIN FREEZE. Photo courtesy of Lou Scamble/Palomar.

André (Iani Bédard) is a teenager living with his workaholic mother (Anne-Élisabeth Bossé) and baby sister in a wealthy gated community on an island outside of Montréal. The community has become controversial amongst city folk for using a new, revolutionary fertilizer to keep their golf courses green and pristine even in the bitter Québec winter. The reckless release of an experimental chemical from the community led by Michel (Stéphane Crête) begins to affect the community, turning its once uppity residents into bloodthirsty zombies. As the island begins to be quarantined, André, his family, and other survivors must battle through zombies, government agents, and the harsh elements to brave this vicious attack.

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Stéphane Crête in Julien Knafo’s BRAIN FREEZE. Photo courtesy of Lou Scamble/Palomar.

To make a long story short, Brain Freeze is Shaun of the Dead by way of Parasite mixed with a Troma film, with little of the narrative nuance, and honestly, that’s fine. I don’t need a film about comically overpowered zombies to raise, or even answer, the same questions as a Best Picture winner, but rather deliver impressive action and intense gore pervasively. Sometimes, it doesn’t even do that part perfectly, but enough cogs are spinning in director Julien Knafo’s vision that they keep it from feeling entirely wrong.

Perhaps the most glaring issue with the film is that it leans a little too heavily into slapstick comedy for a film that seeks to provide a satire to the individualistic nature of the wealthy. When everything is played up solely for laughs, there is a measure of thrill lost in the equation when nothing feels as consequential. Yes, this opens up a lot more instances of rich people getting what’s coming to them, but with everything acting as a hollow caricature, it sometimes doesn’t pack the punch compared to something a bit more clever.

Visual effects are also a struggle when Brain Freeze tries to go big. Surprisingly, the practical effects in the film are the strong point here, which in a zombie film, is a blessing. The issue comes when Brain Freeze employs CGI where they can’t cover themselves on practical effects, and the effects are shoddy at best, SyFy Original Movie-level at worst, which leads the whole thing to feel cheaper and trashier than it actually is. Add in the weird scatological humor of it all and it begins to feel a bit too juvenile for its own good.

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Roy Dupuis in Julien Knafo’s BRAIN FREEZE. Photo courtesy of Palomar.

And that’s the big thing that leaves Brain Freeze ultimately feeling a bit empty in that there is just so much that could’ve been polished that would take this from a self-aware parody to a genuinely clever film that balances both goofy comedy and effective horror simultaneously. It feels so often that the film simply is settling for being adequate, when the potential for it to go above and beyond to make a bigger impact is always right in front of it, but it never catches up to it.

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Benoît Rivest and Véronique Chaumont in Julien Knafo’s BRAIN FREEZE. Photo courtesy of Palomar.

Do we need another zom-com? Absolutely not. There are plenty of better, more successful, funnier, scarier, gorier options out there if this is something you’re looking for specifically. But for those who have exhausted their options, there’s nothing inherently bad or dishonest about Brain Freeze. It absolutely fulfills every promise it makes in that it is a film with hella zombies and hella comedy, even if it doesn’t deliver on being above average on either of those things. I think, for lack of a better phrase, Brain Freeze often bites off more than it can chew when it comes to everything that it wants to pull off. Perhaps restructuring it into something a bit smaller and character-focused as opposed to large-scale slapstick placed on a cheap green screen would serve it better. It’s a bit undead on arrival (I am quitting writing after that sentence).

Screening during the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews, streaming

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