Film, News & Commentary

Underground Cinema – Epidemic 2.0 review (Melbourne)

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They’ve turned an ordinary inner city school into the Swedish academy for forensic criminal investigation, an Albert Park boatshed into a Louisiana swamp shindig and the surrounds of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art into a Middle Eastern market with a Monty Python-esque twist.
But this time Undergrounds Cinema (UGC) did something they had never done before. It seems that much like the film industry it so clearly loves, UGC has returned to the pool of the sure-fire sequel.
In the lead up to its most recent event, the organisers asked the public to vote on which previous instalment deserved to be dug up again for one more run of performances.
To the uninitiated this may seem like a fairly trivial and obvious step in the evolution. UGC straddles a border between theatre and film, both of which are rich fields for reinterpretation, re-imagination or reruns.
But UGC is different. In choosing to return to the well of prior events they flipped one of the group’s most endearing and fascinating characteristics completely and utterly on its head.
UGC has, up to this point at least, guarded the secrecy around its events with a jealousy which borders on paranoia. Scarce details are drip fed to attendees; usually only a general theme, dress code and time are known to attendees in the lead up to the event. Then in the days immediately prior to the event, the location is leaked. Press embargoes are strictly enforced until after the final event in both Sydney and Melbourne has finished.
Much time prior to UGC can be consumed with interpreting cryptic clues posted on Facebook, searching for any tip of the hat to which cinematic experience is about to be brought to life before you.
The event which was voted to be resurrected was Danny Boyle’s zombie apocalypse flick 28 Days Later. This was originally performed all the way back in 2011, when UGC was a much smaller event, if only in size rather than ambition.
It also happened to be the first time which yours truly attended a UGC event, and you can read about it if you desire here.
Whenever I ask someone what their favourite UGC event is, typically the first they nominate is the first they attended. Invariably, the shock of the foreignness of the experience sticks firmly in the memory of most.
For me it was no different. So before UGC- Epidemic 2.0 I was unsure what to expect. Not in the usual “what the hell am I did I sign up for” way, but because I had a very good idea of what was likely to happen.
Attending a UGC event feels like being initiated into a secret society, even if you’re not entirely sure what it’s devoted to. Standing outside a near deserted inner city train station with hundreds of other likeminded gore covered attendees, it’s hard not to be swept up in the sensation that you’ve been included in some bizarre parallel world that bemused innocent by-passers can only hypothesise about.
One of its most thrilling drawcards is the way in which it transforms innocuous locations into cinematic scenes, dropping you unexpectedly into a completely different world.
Even though the opening stanza of this event took place in an untouched corner of North Melbourne industrial complexes, it may as well have been a ragged post-apocalyptic wasteland. This shouldn’t be interpreted as a slight on the fair suburbs of North Melbourne, but rather a tip of the hat to the UGC team for finding an excellent off the beaten track area.
Attendees were lead down a dusty, rocky path, squatting to avoid undue attention and listening for any sign that “they” might indeed be coming. Jumping through a wire fence and hurriedly traversing a deserted overgrown car park behind a deserted warehouse, you could certainly be forgiven for wondering if indeed the apocalypse were to descend whether this area would change at all.
Upon reaching the event location, it was clear that whatever unruly band was chasing you had arrived and a manic run inside another abandoned building ensued. The former factory/warehouse that housed the theatrical part of the evening was an ingenious location and the cast and crew had utilised the building to great effect.
The costumes and set decorations were adequately grungy, though perhaps lacked some of the finer eye for detail which often makes UGC’s events such a wondrous world to luxuriate in. Some of the actors also had poor vocal projection, which occasionally made the plot and audience directions difficult to follow. But many of the problems that have stalled previous UGC events (long queues, poor PA, segmented locations) were absent and the event went off without a hitch.
Unlike the previous imagination of 28 Days Later in which the zombie infection slowly spread through actors amongst the cord, Epidemic 2.0 reinforced the idea that they could be hiding anywhere around you. The zombies served primarily as a vehicle to terrify the audience into running into a new location.
In the end, UGCEpidemic 2.0 wasn’t really a sequel at all.
It was the bones of the original idea, but cast in a new way which played to the advantages of the resources available. It was a satisfying remake of an old idea in a new different way; more Zack Synder’s Dawn of the Dead than Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later.

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