Envy the Dead by Isa Swain

Author ········· Isa Swain
Published ······ Online, November 2012
Section ·······  New Media

Written, Directed, Produced and Edited by Isa Swain

The vernacular of horror has been one of codes: a way of talking about things without talking about them. Usually addressing universal and human frailties, each sub-genre exploits, and more importantly romanticises, the conscious and subconscious impulses at the root of these frailties to such an extreme that what we're presented with is an obscene caricature of ourselves within a specific context. They  come loaded with their own conventions, rules or identifiers of a sort that don't need to be acknowledged but, when ignored, are usual conspicuously absent and beg to be rationalised. These conventions come together to form templates that can be picked up and placed over any given situation to hopefully create something equally refreshing and endearing in a cliché-ridden kind of way. No one is going to mind another mad scientist if they're written well.

This film has been a labour of love from the very beginning, with the idea that we were creating something unprecedented always at the heart. Horror, despite its ever-increasing commercial appeal, has always retained an identity or reputation as a genre that goes against convention, be it moral or otherwise. This film was produced around the notion that horror, perhaps more than any other cinematic genre, is grounded in its own conventions.

The modern zombie, post Romero’s 1968 midnight movie classic ‘Night of the Living Dead’; has matured from a voodoo boogeyman to an exquisite vehicle for social satire. The zombie is you, the sheep in the fold. The countless motions you go through every day, driven by a momentum created solely by the fact that everyone is going through them with you; building communities, societies and cultures that rely on allegiances you rarely, if ever, must re-evaluate. Put simply the zombie is us when we aren’t thinking for ourselves and the horde nods to the malevolence of any culture that’s brought about, exists to exploit, or is maintained, by that tendency.

The zombie speaks to us as a cultural metaphor as much as an intimate one. The first (American) zombies were often placed and encountered in and around shopping malls for very specific reasons. The filmmakers had something to say about their culture; one they saw, appropriately, as sick: a culture of materialism, an aspect of the American ethos, built around the consumer, that had become so distant from any culture of production that it had begun to feed on the consumers to sustain itself.

There have been very few attempts to take any horror templates and place them over the landscapes and cultures of the Arab region, a place ripe for exploitation of this sort. This is what we've tried to do, along with satisfying the much more selfish desire to create the first Arab zombie film. To make this film unique and relevant we had to make it culturally specific. Using existing people, places and events as inspiration, the same costumed dramas played out every day in the region, and the Gulf [region] specifically, we looked around and asked, what are the most important elements of Arab culture? The elements that are so vital they can be used to control people and to lead them to abandon the personal responsibility of independent thought to affiliate.

Isa Swain is a reliable yet infrequent contributor to Bahrain’s art scene, Isa has nonetheless collaborated and exhibited in a wide variety of media both on the island and abroad. Born and raised in England, his family returned to Bahrain in the early nineties. Since then, he has produced works of photography, digital video and film; sound, performance pieces and installations. vimeo