Dead Rising: Watchtower had a lot of potential, but some setbacks make it a generic and average horror film that only fans of the genre will enjoy.
Dead Rising: Watchtower seems like a generic movie based on game, since it has everything you’d expect from one, including references to the Dead Rising franchise, a compelling story that never unleashes its full potential and some recognizable actors and actresses. For those unfamiliar, this is a zombie movie based on the popular action game from Capcom, but some things set it apart from the competition. First, the film alternates between a serious and a sillier tone which means that people will spent more time laughing than hugging their pillow in fear. Second, the movie was released for free on digital distribution service Crackle, which means that the company’s testing the water for similar releases.
The premise of the film’s remarkably similar to that of the game. There’s a zombie outbreak that started in the fictional city of East Mission, Oregon and is threatening to spread throughout the entire country. As a way of containing the infectious outbreak, the government develops a vaccine called Zombrex that delays the effects of the infection. But as it turns out, containing the zombie outbreak isn’t that simple. The film follows reporter Chase Carter as he investigates a quarantine zone, but soon enough, he finds himself in the middle of a zombie outbreak and he needs to join a group of survivors to try and escape the enclosed city. But not only do the survivors have to worry about the flesh-eating creatures, but also about the motorcycle gang members who take advantage of situation and terrorize both zombies and people.
Watchtower takes place after the events of Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2 and journalist Frank West (who was the protagonist of the first game) is being interviewed by a local channel while all hell’s breaking loose. The funniest moments come from Frank West: he swears a lot, blatantly promotes his book, makes fun of the interviewer and gives advice to the audience in the most honest ways possible. But those moments clash with everything else in the movie. The military’s killing everything inside the quarantine zone, there are zombies eating people everywhere, one of the survivors, needs to find more Zombrex before she turns into a zombie, opportunistic bandits rule the city and so on.
Tonally, the film suffers from some problems. At times, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and at other times, is tries to be a serious drama. If I had to compare it to other films and TV series, I’d say that Watchtower is a combination of The Walking Dead and Zombieland and this clash in tone makes the movie hard to follow at times.
For the most part, Watchtower is really well done. The special effects look terrific, the actors bring some convincing performances and there are some subtle references to the games that fans of the series will surely appreciate (there are Mega Man toys here and there, the characters combine weapons in creative new ways, Frank West makes an appearance and so on.) But I feel like Watchtower isn’t sure of what it wants to be. It can be funny and it can be serious, but those parts don’t mix in a convincing manner.
As in pretty much every horror movie ever made, the characters constantly get out of their way to make some of the stupidest mistakes possible. Why would someone try to negotiate with the bandits? Why would you leave the door to your precious shelter open? Why would someone hug a zombie? Haven’t you learned anything from movies and popular culture? As in most horror films, the characters aren’t that well-developed, so when something happens to them, it’s hard to care.
In the end, Dead Rising: Watchtower is a compelling horror movie that misses more than it hits: the characters aren’t well-developed, there are some problems in terms of tone and it does absolutely nothing new. Nevertheless, I had fun watching this movie and I wish there is another entry in the series. If that happens, I hope the people involved in the project will be willing to take some risks and make something fresh and unique. In the meantime, I’m glad I watched this average video game film.