29th Mar2018

‘Welcome To Essex’ Review

by Philip Rogers

Stars: Catherine Delaloye, Greg Burridge, Muzzy Tahir, Sarah-Grace Neal, Sophie Jones, Michele Reynolds, Jonathan Walker, Robert Evans, Terry Noble, Julian Seager, Nathan Mallen, Tracey Franklin, Kimi Sara Munro | Written and Directed by Ryan J. Fleming

welcome-essex-poster

Following an epidemic, the majority of the UK population was wiped out in a matter of hours, with the recently deceased coming back to life and killing any other survivors. Unable to control the situation, an order to evacuate was given, but by now the damage had already been done. A small group of survivors in Brentwood are now left with no choice but to work together, as they make their way across Essex to the last known point of rescue; the coastal town of Southend-on-Sea. But as the number of undead continue you grow, they now start to outnumber the living and any chance of survival gets slimmer by the day.

Welcome to Essex is a new horror from first time writer-director Ryan J. Fleming, who manages to deliver something different to the zombie genre, mixing horror and comedy. Originally intended as a satire like Shaun of the Dead (2004), this was later changed to incorporate a more serious tone, although the film still manages to retain a lot of the humour. The comedy elements may be hit and miss with some viewers, as it can detract from the serious nature of the film, but I felt the injection of humour worked positively. It helped continue the momentum of the film entertaining, rather than trying to create just another zombie.

The film may have been created on a microbudget, but the use of several isolated locations throughout Essex help to make the film look bigger than it is. The deserted shots of the towns and shopping centres depict an eerie feel of desolation, which is reminiscent the haunting shots around London in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002). The film avoids being too cliché with the Essex locations, although we do get a shot of the Basildon sign and the unofficially named Bas Vegas also gets a mentioned. However, judging by the editing in the film, it looks as though they may have got lost whilst making their way through Basildon’s town centre. The film follows the group through several locations throughout Essex, however the most impressive moments in the films occurs in Brentwood High Street, where we see 1500 zombies running towards the group. It is an imposing, fast paced scene which has the horde of zombies filling the street from one side to the other and considering the low budget, is was an impressive shot to pull off.

The special effects team had their work cut out, but they really delivered with both the makeup and practical gore effects. The Brentwood scene alone must have taken a massive team effort to get so many zombies prepared for the role, but the team really shine when delivering some of the practical gore effects when the attack takes place. There was no room for CGI in this film and I think that was good decision, because the execution is brilliant and when people get killed in Welcome to Essex they don’t hold back on the violence. Director Ryan J. Fleming knows what the audience expects and so the zombie attacks are often drawn out and extremely violent.

Although the zombies play an important part in the film, a lot of time tis taken to also develop the characters and how they are affected by the events. It focuses on what they will do to survive, with the characters react as you would imagine in these situations; but there are a few unexpected twists to the plot, so you are never certain of how the events will unfold.

The film has some strong performances from the main cast with much of the film driven by Catherine Delaloye, as the strong female lead Ryley Dunn, who – with her ex-military background – seems to thrive in the situation. For Dunn escaping zombies is a lot more exciting than surviving life as a civilian, which consisted of signing on and drinking alcohol. Dunn becomes an asset to the group which has more to do with her level-headed nature than just her ability as a fighter. Strong-headed, she has the leadership qualities to guide the group but also the compassion to hold them together.

At the other end of the spectrum Muzzy Tahir offsets the dreary nature of the apocalypse with some brilliantly timed comedy, with a ‘Proper Essex’ performance as Muzzy Scolari. There is natural likeability to his character, because his personality hasn’t changed despite what is happening around him. Muzzy manages to create some of the funniest moments in the film, which are normally due to his laddish actions which often occur at the most inappropriate times.

Welcome to Essex also manages to boast a cameo from Russell Brand, who was the perfect choice for a horror film based in Essex. His humorous delivery perfectly suited to the on-going comedy used in the film. With that being said, if you take anything away from watching Welcome to Essex, it’s be careful how you address Russell Brand and never ask him for directions!

If you were to pick any issues with the film, it would be with some of the supporting characters were not as strong as the main leads, and the syncing of the sound which was recorded at a later date. This may be distracting for some viewers, although these things can normally be overlooked as they come with the territory of independent film making.

Welcome to Essex has enough elements to make it stand out as a horror, but the comedy elements of the film help to make it a lot more memorable. It is an impressive debut from writer director Ryan J. Fleming who exceeded my expectations, by delivering a film which far exceeds the budget. It may have taken him several years to complete the film but the end result was worth waiting for.

Welcome to Essex will have its UK premier at The Romford Film Festival on Thursday 24th May.

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