Review of In the Flesh (2013)

Moving picture, 165 minutes

Seen in 2016.

Saw the first series/season.

A Lancashire village about 4-5 years after every recently deceased person with an intact brain rose up à la Romero, all over the world, and hunted the living. In the UK alone it was 140000 people, apparently everyone who’d died in the last year. Of these, no one is ever seen with injuries more severe than 3rd-degree burns. Perhaps the decomposition process was halted or reversed; this is not explored. Those who rose and did not eat the living apparently died of some supernatural malnutrition. The zombies, termed “PDS sufferers” for “partially deceased syndrome” (not a likely medical term; “zombies” is avoided), do not age, feel no pain and react to all consumption except of human flesh as mildly toxic. They never run out of black goo to vomit as a facile illustration of this point.

As under Romero’s premises, the zombies only seem to expire when their brains are severely damaged, but after the day in 2009 when they all rose, nobody can become a zombie under any circumstances. Despite this having been known and critically important to society for years, most people still seem to believe that bites are infectious, citing only real-world pop-culture portrayals.

In the Flesh attempts to innovate by positing that zombies are easily disabled by electrical shocks and can be treated medically, restoring full self-control and eventually even the memory of what they did when they woke up “rabid”. Implicitly as an effect of daily treatment—injections into the spine—they lose the need and the desire to eat flesh. The UK government sends them home, paying for a massive program of surveillance and perpetual medical treatment, apparently not expecting these near-immortal, fully functional individuals to do anything in return, such as jobs that would be dangerous to mortals.

Soap opera. The overwhelming theme is small-town conservatism. Hatred of flesh-eating zombies is compared to provincial fears of homosexuals—the protagonist is implied to be gay or bi as well as a zombie—and other victims of prejudice. The writers choose to ignore that incurable zombies kept under control by drugs could legitimately be thought of as dangerous, rather unlike gay people. We just get the usual obvious hypocrites, like the man who leads a zombie-hunting cadre, openly murders a treated zombie on the street, and then announces that he expects everyone’s “full support” when his beloved son, KIA in Afghanistan, has been treated and is coming home. Triggered by social slights rather than observation or reflection, he swings back and forth on the issue of whether the zombies are intrinsically evil imposters or A-OK. Several people are seen enjoying zombie video games after really killing zombies for years: also not likely.

The treatment of religious responses to the rising is similarly shallow. The local vicar is especially hateful, but for no apparent reason. There is a villainous pro-zombie movement with its own Christian overtones, also written with no serious thought as to how Christian theology would evolve after years of the dead walking as they do in The Bible (ca. 110 CE). I would expect a wave of scriptural exegesis following such a vast and global miracle, but the writers had only a glance at some of the more famous passages. They didn’t think this one through.

References here: Warm Bodies (2013).

moving picture zombie fiction series