Making Reno, Nev., look like a miserable stinkhole of a city — and that’s even before any undead show up — Remains focuses on the dozens of denizens who play and work in the Silver Star Hotel and Casino. When a government test of a new “nuke oven” goes awry, everyone who’s not, say, having coked-up sex in a storage closet is turned into an insta-zombie.
When Niles (best known for 30 Days of Night) and illustrator Kiernon Dwyer’s five-issue miniseries was unleashed in 2004, it rode the forefront of pop culture’s zombie resurgence, yet also tweaked the subgenre’s conventions and turned its clichés on their disembodied heads.
It would do the same if released today, yet the film adaptation can’t help but feel tired. It operates on a been-there-done-that template, losing nearly all of Niles’ wicked wit. The pun of the title is the most clever thing about it. Like so many horror movies made today by people who grew up on a near-exclusive diet of gore, one can sense the passion behind the filmmakers, but not the creativity to convert that into something special.
And whereas the comics flowed easily from issue to issue, Steve Niles’ Remains seems interminable, as if stuck on a narrative merry-go-round. By the end of the first third, it feels as if it should be starting its final one; 30 minutes could be trimmed without losing anything but the designation of being feature-length.
As the down-on-his-luck cards dealer and trampy waitress, respectively, Grant Bowler (Killer Elite) and unknown Evalena Marie (cast more for looking good in a red bra) are the movie’s bland, ersatz heroes. However, the one bit of casting that will delight Chiller’s core is Miko Hughes — the ill-fated Gage of 1989’s Pet Sematary — all grown up and playing a two-bit stage magician.
Navigate the chopped-off finger through Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray for a handful of trailers, six minutes of bloopers and an 11-minute prequel, Road to Reno, broken up into three chapters. While unnecessary and unrewarding, it suggests Steve Niles’ Remains might better have been served in smaller, um, bites. —Rod Lott