Runtime: 91 minutes
Director: Ray Lee
Writer: Misha Minut Panggau
Actors: Pablo Amirul, Anna Melissa, Nelissa Nizam, Cassidy Panggau, Anwar Jebat, Zeina Debo
By Joan Amenn
At the Portland Horror Film Festival, director Ray Lee has a brief introduction to “Zombie Infection-Belaban Hidup” (2020) where he explains how difficult production conditions were for the cast and crew. He cites the various issues such as weather and wild animals that created challenges in the making this first zombie horror film in Malaysia. It’s smart with plenty of references to other films of the genre for fans to appreciate and surprisingly touching as a native village attempts to fend off a marauding horde of the undead.
The opening montage which explains the origins of the outbreak of the zombie virus is like a graphic novel come to life. It is a brilliant nod to the “Walking Dead” series being based on a series of books and sets up the film to be both a part of a larger genre and thoroughly unique in its own right. This was a clever decision by Lee because there have been so many zombie films already released, no one can claim to be totally original in their own version anymore. With a nod to those who went before, “Zombie Infection-Belaban Hidup” strikes out for new territory in the native forests of Borneo.
It seems that the people of Malaysia have been used as guinea pigs by unscrupulous medical personnel in an attempt to isolate an antidote to a virus that creates zombies. Some escapees from the lab who are not yet infected flee to a nearby town seeking refuge. Since this is a zombie film, a trip to a mall is obligatory. One of the party is searching for a family member but when the mall proves as dangerous a place as the lab they ran from, the group gather themselves up and escape to the forests of the distant villages. The hope is that the terrain there will be a deterrent to the uncoordinated and shambling undead.
This is where the film becomes truly engrossing because the native village is breathtakingly beautiful. We meet Gadang (Pablo Amirul) and his extended family and friends. The affection and sense of community is genuine and only rachets up the tension even more as these unsuspecting villagers go about their lives not realizing that danger is approaching. When the refugees from the lab arrive, they are locked up in isolation because they are suspected of being infected themselves. If only it was that simple.
In light of the pandemic of the last year and a half, the imminent invasion of the native village hits differently. Their brave banding together to defend themselves has a true poignancy and urgency. “Zombie Infection-Belaban Hidup” is a great addition to the already crowded catalog of zombie horror. It’s unique location makes it a stand out and hats off to the production team for all their effort they put into making this film.