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Zombie Rom-Com Film Review: As We Know It lacks laughs & zombies

Romantic horror comedy asks the burning question: Is it possible to order food delivery during the apocalypse?

As We Know It is a rom-com horror movie mashup with a plot suggesting an Americanized version of Shaun of the Dead: a guy tries to get back with his girlfriend during the zombie apocalypse. Lacking the visual pizzazz and humor of the 2004 film by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, As We Know It feels more like Free Enterprise (1998) as if directed by Kevin Smith on a bad day, with a couple of dudes hanging out in front of the TV and discussing their favorite sci-fi films, largely indifferent to the horror taking place outside their door.

It is a conceit that almost works. A recurring motif in the zombie genre is the change in perspective caused by an existential threat, which reduces everyday trials and tribulations to comparative insignificance. As We Know It attempts the opposite: fear of the living dead takes a back seat to concerns about ordering takeout and patching up a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, the amusing concept is undermined by unamusing jokes and too few zombies to make human indifference to them truly comical.


As We Know It Film Review: Stay Put Even If It Kills You
As We Know It film review
The delivery guy (Danny Mondello) succumbs to infection – one of the film’s few zombie moments.

Set approximately in 1996 (our two geeks discuss 1995’s Waterworld but not 1997’s Star Wars Special Edition Trilogy), As We Know It gets off to a good start by following Bruce (Oliver Cooper) as he bicycles through the Hollywood Hills. First he passes a TV news personality “objectively” reporting on a zombie attack taking place in front of him. Then he warns a flirtatious neighbor (Pam Grier) to leave town, but she refuses because the cable guy is scheduled to come. Finally, Bruce reaches the home of his friend, James (Mike Castle), a young novelist who has secluded himself since breaking up with his girlfriend, Emily (Taylor Blackwell). Completely out of touch with current events, James dismisses Bruce’s warnings about a zombie virus spreading through Los Angeles – first from disbelief, then from emotional indifference.

These early scenes capture the right comic vibe: the threat feels genuine but not immediate, as if in the early stages when escape is still possible, but the characters cannot cut the personal or professional ties that keep them tethered where the danger is. Driving the point home, after an escape plan is scuttled because the car has been syphoned of gasoline, James and Bruce decide the best course of action is to order chicken wings and pop Waterworld into the laserdisc player.

As We Know It film review
James (Mike Castle) & Bruce (Oliver Cooper) order chicken wings during a zombie outbreak.

The Waterworld screening is interrupted when Emily stops to say farewell on her way out of town; unfortunately, her friends are killed, stranding her with James, Bruce, and eventually a food delivery guy (Danny Mondello). Revealing that his love of film is not matched by any great insight or understanding, James proclaims that one thing he has learned from the various “Of the Dead” films (presumably Night of the Living DeadDawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead) is that staying put is the best option (because it worked out so well for Ben?).

At this point, the audience realizes that As We Know It is not going to deliver the anticipated wild road trip through an apocalyptic landscape. Instead, the low budget will restrict the action to within a few feet of James’s house. Meanwhile, the plot’s central conceit loses its punch as we realize that not only the characters but also the filmmakers are indifferent to the zombies, which turn out to be a plot device to get James and Emily back together.

As We Know It film review
Bruce, James & Emily (Taylor Blackwell) hash out their relationship problems.

The rest of the film focuses on the couple repairing their relationship, and even at a mere 84-minutes, it is a long, slow slog only occasionally interrupted by a zombie intrusion: first the delivery guy succumbs to the virus, then then the neighbor. Otherwise, there are a few glimpses out the window or on the news – barely enough to cut together a misleading trailer.

Meanwhile, the three leads struggle to wring pathos and laughter out of the dialogue while juggling the conflicting tones tossed at them by the script: the death of Emily’s friends is supposed to register deeply for about sixty seconds before being entirely forgotten; after an amusing twist with would-be-slacker-chef Bruce accidentally concocting a recipe that might cure the zombie virus, the film opts for something closer to the poignant tragedy of Miracle Mile (1988). After all the feeble jokes, it is hard to take the abrupt attempts at sincerity seriously.


As We Know It Film Review: Conclusion
As We Know It film review
Pam Grier provides a few good moments as a neighbor who becomes a zombie.

As We Know It has a funny concept – the characters are too focused on their personal problems to deal with the zombie apocalypse – but the humor fizzles because the threat is not pervasive enough to make the human behavior seem truly absurd. Instead, the film feels like a vanity project created by people reliving memories of their formative years in the 1990s. The nerdy nostalgia is endearing (such as James and Bruce’s love for Waterworld, which is not nearly as bad as people remember). Unfortunately, it is not enough to carry the film, and one suspects the zombies were added to make the relationship melodrama more commercial. On the plus side, the zombie makeup is good, and Grier shines brightly as the flirty-neighbor-turned zombie; she deserves more than a brief cameo (her footage looks as if it was filmed separately, relying on a body double whenever her character shares a shot with another actor).

Ultimately, As We Know It cannot live up to its trailer and its poster, which promise something more spectacular than a three-character chamber piece (the poster depicts James as a macho leading man, not the nerdy author who writes sci-fi books that no one admits to reading). Too bad: if As We Know It had delivered on its potential – by more evenly balancing its rom-com with horror and by capitalizing more fully on the conflict between the genres – it could have been a little gem.

As We Know It (2023)
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Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

As We Know It film reviewA one-star rating feels unfairly cruel for a film with good intentions, but the funny concept fizzles thanks to unfunny writing and an overemphasis on rom-com instead of zom-com. Movie nerds of a certain generation might relate to the characters and feel a nostalgic twinge for the paraphernalia of the period. But horror fans will be disapointed by the low zombie-quotiant, and rom-com fans may wonder whey the zombies are even there.

Credits: Co-written and directed by Josh Monkarsh. Co-written by Brandon DePaolo and Christopher Francis. Produced by Monkarsh and Daniel Cummings. Co-produced by K. Asher Levin and Joshua Fruehling. Cinematography by Stephen St. Peter. Music composed by Michel Britsch. A Traffic City Productions film. 84 mins. Rated R. Distributed by Buffalo 8. U.S. Theatrical Release Date: November 15, 2023.

Cast: Mike Castle, Oliver Cooper, Taylor Blackwell, Chris Parnell, Danny Mondello, and Pam Grier.  

As We Know It is playing an exclusive engagement at the Monica Film Center through November 21 before moving to Regency Calabasas Commons on December 1.

As We Know It: Photo Gallery

 

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.