Devil’s Playground (2010)
Fast, brutal, bloody, gritty and enjoyable – Devil’s Playground packs a solid punch. Occasionally it slips in pace and some characters are annoyingly superfluous, but overall it’s a thoroughly watchable zombie horror with a solid heart and one very bloody hammer.
Newgen Industries have trialed a new performance-enhancing drug on 29,000 people across the UK… but something has gone wrong. Horribly wrong. The trial subjects have all begun falling ill and Newgen quickly realize they’ve unleashed something harmful into the population. At first it seems like the subjects are dying, but they’re actually changing into something monstrous… and very hungry. Able to run, jump and bounce off walls with Jackie Chan-esque agility, Britain finds itself at war with 29,000 infectious super-cannibals.
As the infection spreads, Newgen enforcer Cole (Craig Fairbrass) is sent on a mission to find the one test subject who’s not infected – Angela Mills (MyAnna Buring), who is oblivious to her importance. Cole must battle his way through a chaos-exploded London to reach Angela and get her out of the country, or they may lose the cure forever.
The focus of Devil’s Playground is on Craig Fairbrass’s Cole rather than MyAnna Buring’s Angela, and it’s an interesting decision. Cole is a Byronic hero – an aggressive murderer who has spent years cleaning up Newgen’s mess and has finally realized the extent of his personal, moral corruption. He’s been bitten and knows his death will come quickly once his three infection suppressants run out. Seeking redemption in helping Angela escape, his final mission is not for Newgen, it’s for the Human race and the single hope that he can save the remnants of his tattered soul.
The Devil’s Playground is good for a numbers of reasons, but most notably are a strong performance from Craig Fairbrass and some genuinely brilliant free running zombies. Fairbrass often plays nameless mercs or cardboard gangsters, so it’s good to see him tackle a detailed and troubled role with such passion and skill. There are also solid performances from Craig Conway, Lisa McAllister, Del Henney and the always-excellent MyAnna Buring, which improve the film vastly, along with a notable (but disappointingly short) cameo from Sean Pertwee.
Tragically, some of the characters in Devil’s Playground are underwritten or unnecessary. The introduction of outsiders Lavinia (Jamie Murray) and Geoffery (Shane Taylor) is just needless flab that irritates rather than excites. Danny Dyer also stars as a child-killing cop and, although Dyer does a surprisingly thoughtful turn as Joe, his character is too troubled, is utterly without sympathy and is an awkward companion to the free-spirited Angela. These additional strains of story and character detract from the mission in hand and cause the pacing to sag significantly in the middle. Luckily the film is framed with a great start & ending and is coated with insanely acrobatic zombies to keep it, ironically, alive.
Since 28 Days Later made it acceptable for zombies to sprint there have been some ace “running undead” movies (Dawn of the Dead 2004) and some truly diabolical ones (Day of the Dead 2008). Whether you agree with fast moving zombies or not, Devil’s Playground sits in the good category in this recent sub-genre of zombie lore. The zombies are fast, inventive and will run up anything to get to their prey. Occasionally the zombies’ free-running might raise a chuckle – the undead throwing out flips and other stylish moves prove utterly incongruous – but overall it’s a horrifying concept. It’s a world ender of an idea – swift and final.
Devil’s Playground is a brutal film in places. Finding out that guns barely do any damage to the speedy undead, the survivors use anything at their disposal to defeat their foe – cars, gas canisters, pipes, knives and one very sturdy hammer. The result is a bloody, nasty mess and it’s a thrill to watch.
Be prepared for drama as well as all-out horror, however, as it’s a surprisingly talky movie for a zombie flick. This isn’t a complaint as it’s necessary to prevent the film from becoming one long gimmick. There is a solid, human element throughout Devil’s Playground, which is peppered with excellent scenes of chaos. It is a necessary balance.
Mark McQueen does a decent job of directing Devil’s Playground, making up for some of the inadequacies in Bart Ruspoli’s saggy script; it’s visually exciting, gritty, dark and panicked. McQueen will hopefully have a long and exciting career, as Devil’s Playground is a great feature debut.
Devil’s Playground is a decent zombie horror. It is essential watching simply for Craig Fairbrass’s performance and the amazing free running zombies. It does sag significantly in places and some characters may irritate to the point of distraction, but overall this is well worth seeking out, especially for fans of the sprinting undead.