A zombie movie with political undertones? Bitten there, dawned that. But a zombie movie about the political process itself — one that eschews any subtext whatsoever in favor of ultra-violently literalizing the infectious corruption and braindead idiocy that rots the halls of power from the inside out? That might seem like a more accurate reflection of the self-immolating world we all share today, where so many different governments are only sustained by encouraging their people to eat each other alive.
That, at least, is the working theory behind Wang I-Fan’s “Get the Hell Out,” . “A wrong movie makes you suffer for 90 minutes,” declares a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it opening title card that reads more like a disclaimer. “A wrong government makes you suffer for four years.” In other words: No matter how exhausting you find this anarchic cross between George Romero and Scott Pilgrim, it can’t be worse than the reality waiting for you when it’s over (and it definitely isn’t, even if Wang’s debut bleeds out long before it finally stops twitching).
Don’t get me wrong: There’s no place for subtlety in a film set inside the Legislative Yuan. For those who haven’t seen the YouTube videos, Taiwan’s parliament essentially combines the bad-faith partisanship of an ordinary congress with the outsized violence of a WWE SummerSlam. Punching, hair-pulling, and full-on brawls have all been known to occur on a semi-regular basis; MPs have eaten written proposals to stop them from passing on more than one occasion. One local journalist explained “the legislators are partly acting — trying to show their constituents they’re working hard to fight for their cause,” but he also conceded “the fights only allow the people to see the surface, not real issues. People often don’t even understand the bills.” Alas, the method behind the madness isn’t much of a foreign concept. People not understanding the bills isn’t a byproduct of the fights; it’s the reason for having them in the first place.
“Get the Hell Out” is all surface all the time, but the film’s shiny pools of blood reflect some measure of light onto real issues just as the signature examples of its genre have. Our narrator and avatar is an AOC-worthy ass-kicker named Hsiung (Megan Lai), who’s devoted herself to a career in politics for the sole reason of shutting down the foreign chemical plant filtering toxic waste into the water around her working-class hometown. And not just any toxic waste, but the kind that causes a wildly infectious plague known as “idiot rabies” (so called because it makes people rabid, and turns them into idiots). If only the other MPs in the Legislative Yuan could recognize how imminently this political issue was about to become their actual problem; if only these Taipei bigwigs cared about protecting their coastal constituents from being turned into flesh-eating zombies any more than Trump cares about stopping the cataclysmic wildfires turning a couple of blue states red.
But plagues, like climate change, aren’t quite as localized as some political leaders would like to pretend, and Wang’s movie is only a few seconds old before its fictional President of Taiwan is chewing through an MP’s neck in the middle of parliament. Hsiung is on the other side of the glass separating the floor from the viewing gallery, and she watches with an amusing lack of surprise as mass hysteria breaks out in the chamber below — maybe it just doesn’t look that much different from an average day at the Legislative Yuan. But Hsiung has to admit to herself that the blood geysers don’t usually spray quite this high, and she’s never seen the building’s lockdown procedures seal everyone inside before. “I fought so hard to get into parliament,” she snarls. “And now I have to fight so hard to get out alive.”
From there, we’re spirited back in time six months so that Wang can show us how idiot rabies came to the floor, and why Hsiung is watching the carnage from the viewing gallery instead of down in the shit with her fellow MPs. Even more frantically paced and feverishly accented than the flesh-eating scenes to come, the first (and freshest) act of “Get the Hell Out” is like a hyper-sonic anime rendition of “Taming of the Shrew” that starts with Hsiung suplexing a misogynistic reporter and leads to her convincing a random man to be her mouthpiece in parliament and help push through the vote to shut down the plant. But the feckless security guard she picks as her proxy isn’t as random as he first appears: His name is Wang (Bruce Ho), and he’s been in love with Hsiung since they were kids.
Is that kind of leverage any better than other forms of political influence? Maybe not, but the more pressing issue turns out to be that it’s just as unreliable, and Wang soon finds himself with a devil on his other shoulder in the form of a hyper-flamboyant rival MP who wants to profit off the plant at any cost (hot pink silk business suits don’t come cheap). Meanwhile, Hsiung’s dad is working as a groundskeeper on the lawn outside the Legislative Yuan, and — just a few hours before the outbreak — begins a hot affair with an age-appropriate woman who doesn’t have long to live (and by “hot” I mean they’re literally humping in the Legislative Yuan’s boiler room when the pandemic begins).
Director Wang plays the zombie apocalypse for laughs more than scares, as he knows it’s hard to compete with the horror that’s waiting for us once the movie’s over. The gonzo outbreak spills across parliament with the lunatic glee and well-choreographed violence of a Stephen Chow comedy, and there’s hardly a frame that goes by without some kind of animated flourish added on top (e.g., graphics that codify special moves, onscreen text announcing each new character and — as part of the movie’s funniest running gag — spills across the action like karaoke subtitles while a low-level grunt sings his personal fight song in order to stay calm).
Some details stand out, such as the bodyguards who stoically continue to protect the President even after he starts eating people. Others wash away in the relentless waves of fake blood, failing to make an impression in a movie that gets jammed in the only high-octane gear it’s got. By the time the carnage spills out from the parliamentary floor and into the various anterooms and tunnels in the building around it, “Get the Hell Out” is so numbing that your eyes glaze over and stop looking for the ornamental pop-culture references splattered across the story.
As is so often the case with real politics, the delightful madness of Wang’s manic debut eventually starts to feel like more of the same, and the fighting disinterests you from the real issues at work. Wang doesn’t forget about idiot rabies or the chemical plant from which it spews; such things are mere afterthoughts in a film that cares less about any of its specifics than it does the message that coagulates them. A message shouted aloud by one character, and written in the entrails of the dead bodies around her for all the world to see: “Use your brain!”
“Get the Hell Out” premiered in the Midnight Madness section of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.
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