Brain Freeze (2020) [Fantasia Film Festival 2021]

Director Julien Knafo’s zombie horror comedy is a movie that teeters back and forth between what it’s trying to say and what it’s trying to appeal to. It identifies itself as a horror comedy and injects a lot of silliness involving zombie carnage, body horror, and even some poor animals, but mid-way it stops being funny and tries to convey some kind of social commentary. What the commentary is, exactly, is beyond me, but it never improves on the overlong, tedious exploits.

At the beginning of winter, a posh golf club hires a multinational to genetically modify its turf, but the water becomes contaminated turning its inhabitants into zombified mutants. Transformed, the rabid zombies spread the intelligent infection as their bodies and limbs slowly decompose in to grass. The clock ticking, teenager André with his toddler sister, and local officer Dan search for answers in a quest that leads them to island’s tainted water supply, and the source, All the while they have to face zombies at every corner and face off with mercenary twins sent by the Multinational to eliminate all traces of the cursed fertilizer and potential witnesses..

“Brain Freeze” purports to be something so much more than the average zombie movie, but it never fulfills its promise. While the zombies presented here certainly are different, the movie itself can never decide what kind of horror movie it wants to be. Knafo jumps back and forth between schlocky zombie movie and serious science fiction film about the damage corporations can inflict. The movie even ends on a dark, down note that never actually clarifies what the hell it’s trying to say. Is the film about the perils of screwing with nature?

Is it about the perils of trusting faceless corporations? Is it a look at how Mother Nature can retaliate in unusual ways? Is it a commentary on the fragility of nature? The script can never come to a rational conclusion, opting for many silly moments that are supposed to be tense and terrifying. All the while there’s a ton of build up with characters that never go anywhere and end abruptly. Not making things any better are the poorly written characters, as central protagonist Andre is shrill and never quite as emotionally invested in protecting his toddler sister as we’d like.

All the while Dan is the only character amplifying the high stakes, but the writers never seem to know how to tackle his emotional journey with his infected daughter. The sheer tonal confusion and lack of real scares makes “Brain Freeze” just a middling zombie affair. It’s disappointing, as a film with this premise could really amount to a terrifying mankind vs. nature horror entry.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 5th until August 25th.