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TIFF 2020: Get the Hell Out

This zombie film falls flat by neglecting to foster ambiguity in the chaos
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The film has no significant character development, creating a zombie flick that feels hollow. COURTESY OF TIFF
The film has no significant character development, creating a zombie flick that feels hollow. COURTESY OF TIFF

At the beginning of I-Fan Wang’s debut film, Get the Hell Out, the audience gets a dire warning: “A wrong movie will only make you suffer for 90 minutes. A wrong government makes you suffer for four years.” The next and first shot of the movie is a pristine-looking Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan.

This contrast between a shiny veneer and a sinister message is gradually deconstructed in this satirical zombie movie that aims to criticize the Taiwanese government and democratic governments around the world. When a zombie outbreak occurs in the parliament building, the politicians exacerbate and prolong it instead of diffusing the situation.

While Get the Hell Out manages to mimic the chaos it aims to mock — both through the action and cheeky directing techniques — the ambiguity required of any movie of this kind is absent. Instead, we’re treated to almost two hours of formless character dynamics and decisions, punctuated with barely-integrated jokes.

The setup — based on true-to-life shenanigans that happen in Taiwan’s impassioned partisan parliament — is introduced to us by Hsiung Ying-ying, a young, ideological MP. Her parliamentary life is shaped by her only political goal of destroying a chemical plant that has poisoned her hometown.

When she’s fired from her position due to a violent incident between her and her primary political rival, she turns to a former classmate, Wang You-wei, whom she hopes to get elected as an MP. However, Wang’s electoral success is quickly dampened; after literally closing all the doors and swallowing the keys during a meeting, a zombie outbreak occurs in an antechamber filled with politicians.

The events that follow are typical to the genre: the survival arc, the shadowy figure with a detonator, and the surprise immunity of a main character. But satires are supposed to use tropes to emphasize their main idea. If your main idea is centred around chaos caused by people, a zombie movie is a pretty good choice. All the events listed above are better at showing conflicts between people than they are at showing conflicts between people and the supernatural.

The actions of several politicians, including the key-swallowing farce, do succeed at exaggerating the ludicrous decisions that politicians sometimes make. The message feels even closer to home because of our own outbreak and the political disasters that have accompanied it. The animated character introductions and karaoke jokes serve to quicken the pace and confuse the audience to the same effect.

However, a zombie movie is all about the reactions of people in unimaginable circumstances. Despite this, the majority of the characters have one-dimensional personalities and even less inspired motivations, leading to a predictable and seemingly pointless plotline.

Instead of a true reflection on the nature of politicians working in a partisan system, we get a black-and-white portrayal of ‘the good guys’ and ‘the bad guys.’ The corrupt politician makes all the selfish decisions we would expect him to make. Wang and Hsiung, though morally grey in the amount of blood they shed, work together rationally to survive, their plans only thwarted by external actors.

While the chaos of the events is clear, the chaos of human nature is less so. The audience walks away with the sense that humans make stupid decisions on purpose rather than due to the complex and ambiguous calculus of the human mind.

The result is predictable: the movie doesn’t feel like real chaos. It just feels like the chaos of a badly told story. My confusion was not directed at the actions of the characters; it was directed at the decisions of the writers.

At the end of the movie, we’re served with another shot of the parliament building — except this time, it’s on fire. The politicians have destroyed themselves and, ironically, the symbol of good governance which is meant to organize us. The chaos that was barely disguised at the beginning is now overtly obvious.

But the seeming inevitability of this exposure clashes with the audience’s very real fear of an unknowable future determined by unpredictable actors. We’re left with something that feels inapplicable to our own more complex reality. As the smoke rises from the blown-up building, a lingering sense of confusion sets in. We’ve destroyed ourselves — so what?