What We Become (also known as Sorgenfri) is the feature debut of Danish writer/director Bo Mikkelsen, a prolific maker of short films for nearly twenty years. The film is touted as the first post-apocalyptic Danish zombie flick and, perhaps surprisingly, the only zombie film on Dead by Dawn’s 2016 bill. Like last year’s Danish entry, When Animals Dream, What We Become is a fresh take on a tried-and-tested monster, with more of a mind to emotional impact than outright horror.
Mikkelsen starts by painting an idyllic picture of suburban community and one particular nuclear family that live there. Pernille (Mille Dinesen) is a tired but loving mother, struggling to deal with her rebellious teenage son Gustav (Benjamin Engell) and her despondent husband Dino (Troels Lyby). Suddenly, a violent strain of flu sweeps across Denmark and the government declares marshal law, turning once-peaceful suburbs like Sorgenfri into paranoid ghost towns.
Mikkelsen really puts the back-work in for the first half, developing the family at the heart of his story and letting his actor’s pull us in with a believable family dynamic. From there, any instances of gore or violence are surprisingly viscious and unexpected, the soft lull of suburbia providing a stark contrast to some of the more outre horror moments. The first on-screen murder deserves credit for reminding us how horrific zombie attacks can be and sets a bar the rest of the film doesn’t quite hit.
As the film goes on, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s an undercurrent of discourse on immigration and the recent issues around Syrian refugees. Danish news coverage on this new “flu” mixed with the high-tension issues of who-and who not- to give safe haven too, don’t quite spell it out, but for anyone who’s watched the news this year, it quickly pulls those ideas to the forefront. Sure it’s a film about a nuclear family under the post-apocalypse, but its also about community spirit on the wider European scale, and what would have to happen to make us all start barring our doors and boarding our windows.
For a film that tries really hard not to be a zombie flick, What We Become is disappointingly run-of-the-mill by its finale. All the careful tension cranking, intrigue-fanning, and family-building seems to drift away as the film forgets why it managed to get us involved in the first place. Mystery and merciless macabre give way to a doddling pack of zombies who dispatch prized characters with little ferocity. A lot of that might be to do with the fact zombie apocalypse stories will often look similar after a point. Even then, What We Become is a well-crafted feature, exploiting noir-ish imagery to transform quiet suburbs into an altogether more anxious environment.
In the end, What We Become doesn’t quite live up to the brutal, heartfelt expectations of its first half, but still manages some tense scenes and great images.
Dir: Bo Mikkelsen
Stars: Mille Dinesen, Marie Hammer Boda, Ole Dupont, Troels Lyby, Benjamin Engell