by Joe Fortunato
Phoenix Run is the web’s newest gritty incarnation of the zombie horror genre. The series opens with Conner Marx’s character, the seemingly meek Marky, bound to a chair facing-off against an aggressive and imposing Harvey as played by Demone Gore. As Harvey presses forward with his interrogation, Marky seems to be on the verge of breaking, but is still refuses to yield. Harvey, though impressed, is demanding answers and says he will go to any length to get them… and you believe he will.
Phoenix Run’s premier ushers you into a world being torn apart by a Z-strain virus. The show’s fittingly grungy intro and solid special effects showing, invite the viewer in to experience the tangible characters and shifting plot. Over all, the episode was well-shot, well-scored, believably-written and solidly acted. Conner Marx’s subtle, and at times coolly unsettling, performance reminded me of one of my favorite Zachary Quinto characters. This played well across from Demone Gore who brought physical extortion to life in his portrayal of the violent ruffian, Harvey.
One of the first things that catches your attention in the episode is Marky’s kempt appearance and expensive looking attire amidst a zombie outbreak in full-swing. This contrast highlights what appears to be an intriguing break with zombie franchise convention on a couple of fronts. Traditionally, the rise of a zombie contagion serves as an immediate leveler of economic disparities, wiping out economy and economist alike and instantly recalibrating societal structure in favor of the physically dominant and the blue-collar capable. Phoenix Run’s opening scene instead seems to hint at a widened gulf between the haves and have-nots in a world which has not yet succumbed to destruction but is still sliding inexorably in that direction. This partial-birth apocalypse gives the glimmer of hope necessary in a good horror feature to bring characters despair and terror into sharp focus. In addition, the lack of a Walking Dead degree of societal collapse also serves to broaden the rhetorical landscape, calling into question not only what we would do to save our lives, but what we would do, or allow, to protect our way of life.
The detritus of a once utopian New Chicago provides a fitting backdrop for this exploration, reflecting humanity’s physical and moral struggles as it grapples for survival. Like all great installments in the zombie franchise, Phoenix Run explores the fragility of society and the resilience (or lack thereof) of humanity. The show blends the visceral with the cerebral by providing a catalyst to overlay the viewer’s internal moral conventions on a terrifying landscape where people are prey and survival may be hinge on how far a person is willing to go.
Phoenix Run’s premise is compelling, and the premier builds your curiosity and leaves you hungry for the next installment. While Phoenix Run’s spin on the zombie genre is different, their use of the show as a rhetorical vehicle to probe societal issues is classic sci-fi, and it is definitely worth checking out.
Fresh off a “Spirit of Comic Con” Award at the Wizard World Film Festival in New Orleans, Phoenix Run will debut their PSA at LUCID this Friday night with special musical guest Ben Union. Tickets are available here.
About Joe Fortunato:
Joe grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the child of recalcitrant New Jersey transplants. Since 1999 Joe had worked predominantly with with wood and metal, designing and building furniture. In 2010 Joe discovered painting. He began working with oils in 2011 when he became (and remains) enamored of this medium. His current work focuses on movement, exploring both physical movement and the objects and moments that move us. Joe served in the Marine Corps and holds degrees from Washington State and Gonzaga Universities. He has a passion for motorcycles and all things mechanical. He is an active practitioner of cheekiness and tomfoolery. Joe currently resides in Seattle.