An indigenous village finds itself under threat thanks to concurrent waves of colonialism in Ray Lee Voon Leong’s indie undead drama, Zombie Infection (Belaban Hidup: Infeksi Zombie). “Don’t concern yourself with outsiders. Our longhouse should be our only concern” advises the village head, yet as the heroes will shortly discover nowhere is really as isolated as it might at first seem and the consequences of exploitation and abuse will eventually reach even the deepest of forests.
As detailed in the opening voiceover animation, evil Russian mad scientist Dr George (Weeam Shawaheen) has fled to Borneo after creating chaos elsewhere and is currently conducting his nefarious experiments on the marginalised taking villagers off the streets and tricking orphans with the promise of free medical care in return for participating in “clinical trials”. Unfortunately, Dr George’s marvellous medicine turns people into zombies which becomes a problem when a bunch of them escape along with a handful of orphans fleeing their captivity at the hands of the exploitative physician. After searching a nearby mall looking for a missing sister and picking up a little boy orphaned by his zombified mother, the gang make their way into the forest assuming that the rough terrain will make it harder for the zombies to follow them but unfortunately they are not quite correct in their assumption.
Meanwhile, an indigenous village is going about its normal life hunting in the forest little knowing they are already under threat despite the persistent nightmares plaguing village head’s son, Gadang (Pablo Amirul). Gadang is soon to become a father for the second time but his relationship with his young daughter Suna is beginning to fray, his wife Jawai (Anna Melissa) cautioning him that he can’t keep making promises only to disappoint her later as he agrees to take her swimming in lieu of allowing her to accompany him into the forest. His father patiently sharpens knives, insisting that it’s best to be ready for any eventuality though village life seems to be happy and as far as they know there is no reason to feel unsafe. Nevertheless, the infection soon catches up with them even if they are slow to believe claims of an undead invasion coming from “outsiders” later blamed for bringing evil into the forest.
Only, it wasn’t the orphans who brought it, one of whom has indigenous tattoos on his shoulders and speaks the same language as the other villagers, but arguably two of their own who had sold out their people to collaborate with Dr George in return for riches. Realising the scale of the problem on his hands, Dr George determines to look for an antidote but there’s nothing he can really do to put right the chain reaction his immoral greed has caused in his exploitative misuse of the marginalised members of a small South East Asian nation.
“What has happened is indeed alarming” according to one of the villagers in what might be the understatement of several centuries, but isolation is no longer enough to protect their longhouse from the ravages of colonialism as they find themselves assaulted by hordes of man-eating monsters created by the greed and amorality of the infinitely corrupt Dr. George. Gadang is forced to face his nightmares, anxious in assuming his father’s responsibility to protect the village while mindful that he has perhaps in a sense neglected his duties as a husband and father while playing the big man in the forest. It’s just as well his dad sharpened all those knives, because they are its seems their last defence even as they’re forced deeper into the forest in search of a safety that may no longer exist.
At its best when exploring the lives of the indigenous community, Zombie Infection reaches its stride only when arriving at the forest even while its attempt to shift focus from the fleeing orphans to the villagers is only partially successful. Nevertheless, the film makes the best of its meagre budget with some impressive prosthetics and zombie choreography as the villagers go after the undead threat with indigenous weapons and wearing traditional dress. Yet as the film’s melancholy conclusion perhaps implies, the legacy of colonialism can’t be overcome so easily leaving the survivors in the middle of a battle seemingly far from its end.
Zombie Infection streamed as part of Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival 2021.
Original trailer (no subtitles)