Watching ‘Versus’ is kind of like taking a chance on dating someone that is not your normal “type” – it might be a little outside your comfort zone and very different from what you usually do, but once you spend some time with it, you find it a refreshing change from what you are used to and really have a blast with it.
‘Versus’ is the ultimate mash-up of zombie and Japanese action/martial arts movies. The movie is far from perfect, but the cast and crew did an amazing job with the tools and resources they had available. The original version of the film, released in 2000, was shot in less than a month on a budget of under $400,000; the movie has become such a cult favorite in Japan that the entire cast and crew reunited to film additional scenes and add more special effects, releasing a 3-disc ‘Ultimate Versus’ cut that I have yet to see, but can only assume takes the bad-assery to a whole new level.
The plot, which you do have to pay particular attention to the movie in order to discover (or read the back of the movie box before watching, which I highly recommend) is a mix-and-match of elements from many genres: two prisoners are brought to a rendezvous with a gang of yakuza (Japanese mobsters) in a remote forest, for reasons that only the mob boss knows. The prisoners and yakuza soon realize, however, that this is no ordinary forest, as the dead start to rise, men with strange powers wander the forest, and a kidnapped girl tells one prisoner about his destiny that transcends space and time.
There is so much going on in this movie that the plot synopsis above doesn’t tell you half of the awesome-ness that’s going on throughout the movie. Again, you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone of what you know about a “traditional” zombie movie, but once you do, there’s no way to not sit back and enjoy what you’re seeing on screen here: sword-wielding samurai zombies, amazingly-choreographed fight sequences, an insane amount of blood and gore, people getting sliced in half, people losing various body parts (many nods to ‘The Matrix’ and ‘The Evil Dead’ in this film, among others), immortal beings, zombies with guns (and yes, their aim is as disjointed as their walk), and an opening scene and epilogue both set hundreds of years apart from the main portion of the movie.
Again, I can’t stress how much you have to “turn off” your traditional notions of how a Western (the global culture, not the cinematic genre) movie is supposed to look and feel. This is not ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ This is not ‘Kill Bill.’ This is a movie that comes from a different culture, trying to fall somewhere in between genres, and having an insane amount of fun while trying to do so. If you are able to set your pre-conceived notions aside and simply sit back and allow yourself to be entertained by a zombie film in a way you never have been before, you will not be disappointed.
If you are able to realize that this is a movie made 100% for entertainment purposes, it’s sole mission to give the viewer an extreme amount of visual “eye candy,” then there is no way you can’t enjoy what you see on screen here. There are so many unique elements in this film: zombie samurai, a Forest of Resurrection, good versus evil in a battle through the ages (okay, maybe that’s been done once or twice before) – I can guarantee that you haven’t seen anything like ‘Versus’ before, which is a claim not many movies can make in these days of remakes and copycats.
The biggest detractor of the movie, however, may be the lack of how “realistic” it feels. Even for an “over-the-top” movie like this, it still seems like the actors go to extremes in their stylizations of their characters. Not a single character has a name, which is cool, but the crazy bad guys are “give them some Valium quick” crazy, the hero is so aloof and cool that you sometimes might wonder if he’s not already a zombie himself, the token girl-in-distress is so unnecessary that sometimes you actually forget that she’s there. These disparities could be due to a cultural difference between the U.S. and Japan, and I’m sure these folks are all good actors, but it seems that something extra might be getting lost in the translation here.
As previously mentioned, this movie was made on a budget of under $400,000, and still impresses with the sheer amount of gore onscreen. The cinematography is very impressive, with a variety of shot styles and filming approaches that clearly show you the folks behind the camera know how to make a good-looking movie. This is a movie that I truly recommend that you go out of your way to find. It may not be everybody’s “cup of tea,” but if you like action, zombies, and shutting off your brain and having fun for two hours, you won’t be disappointed here.
Tony Schaab wonders who would win in an epic, Gladiator-style fight between the Grumpy Cat and the “This is Fine” Dog – an animal-heavy meme battle for the ages! A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Facebook and Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.