In 1968, a minor television commercial director directed a low-budget black-and-white production in the American pastoral wastelands outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and irrevocably altered the course of entertainment history. The seminal of George A. Romero Night of the Living Dead–with its gritty survival story, graphic gore, and uncompromising ending, it was unlike anything seen on the big screen and became the forerunner of a wave of socially relevant horror untethered by the old-world monsters of previous generations. The gut-eating undead that assailed that farmhouse in the woods weren’t suave vampiric earls from some distant land or melancholy nobles afflicted with a foul werewolf curse: they were we, humanity reduced to its ravenous primal impulses, a mindless mass, capable of crushing our fragile civilization with the sheer weight of their horrific numbers. Indeed, the driving idea behind At night continuing significance: the “zombie apocalypse” has grown into a creative industry in its own right, spawning countless iterations of films, television shows, video games, books, and graphic novels; the idea of an overthrow of the undead has permeated contemporary culture even at its top: none other than the US Department of Defense has a contingency plan for spreading a full-blown zombie contagion. And while some would argue that the subgenre has reached its saturation point, like any good revenant, just when you think the creature is dead, it rises hungrier than ever.
One of the most successful modern interpretations of an undead end times scenario is 2002 by Danny Boyle tour de force, 28 days later. Essentially Romero, but characterized by a much more realistic threat in the form of “infected” individuals rather than actual reanimated ghouls, popularized the concept of a zombie outbreak that spreads through viral contamination, a setup that clearly influenced authors Denver Grenell and Ian J. Middleton with their recent literary collaboration Beware The Moon, Red Ruin.
Like Boyle’s celluloid counterpart, the novel begins with a prologue detailing the animal origin of a curious, fast-onset affliction that causes extreme homicidal aggression in its victims that extends postmortem. The plot thereafter focuses on 20-year-old Carla Gallo, freshly fired from her cushy cruise ship job, as she reluctantly returns to her hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand. Leaving before the earthquake that devastated the city in 2011, Carla feels adrift in the middle of the rebuilt metropolis, and after a somewhat disappointing reunion with her brother Antonio (“Formiche” for the dear ones), Carla feels the awakening of the cape baleful that started it leaving years before.
Carla’s monotonous anxieties about job stability and reunion with her parents, however, come to an end when an injured ant, after being attacked on the way home from work by a crazed homeless man, quickly transforms into a bleeding engine of destruction. . After being shot down (twice) by the police, Carla’s existence becomes one of pure self-preservation: fleeing the city just as the new plague destabilizes civil order, she wanders the countryside until she comes across an occupied farm. from a no-nonsense father. to defend her relatives at all costs …
Though epic in scope, world building in Red Ruin wisely never obscures the main narrative; throughout the novel, we become aware of what is happening in the rest of the country, but unlike Max Brooks’ equally impressive undead classic Armageddon, World War Z, the emphasis here is less on global calamity or the ramifications of social collapse. At the heart of it is a personal story, which highlights the characters, their motivations, thoughts and inner impulses. Up until arriving at the farmhouse, the storyline feels purposely disjointed; reeling from the transformation and subsequent death of Ants leaves Carla with recurring PTSD; far from being a cookie-cutter action star, she is instead portrayed as a real person with unique flaws and disadvantages (she’s not used to surfing without the Internet, has a hard time reading regular paper maps), and her girlish attitude of city contrasts sharply (and conflicts) with the rural clan who eventually grant her refuge.
Like the other main protagonists, that family – hard-nosed patriarch Phil, Maori wife Ana, teenager Tia, and youngest daughter Manaia – are as close-knit and self-contained a unit as possible. As with Carla, Grenell and Middleton spend a lot of careful time transforming each relative into fully realized three-dimensional figures; Phil, for example, initially portrayed as gruff, bossy and inflexible, later turns out to be loving, friendly and as uncertain of his choices as anyone else. Similarly, Ana, seen at first as little more than a frightened housewife, soon takes her place in the story as Phil’s equal, just as outspoken Tia sides with Carla to upset her father’s often stubborn view on their new situation.
While both writers possess remarkable individual skills (Grenell’s previous collection of short stories, The Boy on Fire and Other Stories and Middleton’s evocative sci-fi horror novel Ghosts of Gion are equally entertaining reads), Red Ruin thrives mightily on their partnership. Unlike many co-authored works, there is a cohesion that makes each narrator’s separate footprints invisible; The minds of Grenell and Middleton are enthusiastically joined, and their combined energy propels the narrative with ferociously vivid speed. The fast, hypnotic prose underpins furious scenes – the sequence detailing the family’s exodus from their barricaded abode is both gripping and perfectly thought out – yet they never trade characterization for gratuitous violence. As the novel progresses and the circumstances grow darker and the stakes of failure higher, it is that strong emotional depth that captures a reader’s attention: we care, and deeply, for the fate of Carla, Phil and the his family, which heightens the tension during threatening demonstrations.
If there is any weakness a red ruin, it is a sense of overfamiliarity. A consequence of the subgenre zeitgeist overload is that there are now so many permutations of Romero’s initial premise that innovation has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Like the aforementioned 28 days later–itself imbued with homage to the 79s Dawn of the dead–the structure of Red Ruin it will be recognizable to anyone even casually familiar with zombies: being lost at the first infections, Carla fleeing into the countryside, being trapped with strangers in an isolated place, finding refuge only to be eventually overrun. Overall, though, this isn’t the fatal setback one might assume; many modern rock bands were inspired by the Beatles, but does that make the efforts of those current musicians any less enjoyable? The same logic applies here: Red Ruin it can revel in its influences and hit some expected story beats, but the overall enjoyment remains undiluted. Buoyed by those powerful characterizations and an unstoppable intensity, Grenell and Middleton crafted one of the best zombie outings ever written. The setting itself offers a singular strength; wielding New Zealand background, customs and slang with pincer precision, Grenell native and longtime Welsh expat Middleton lends a distinct kiwi flavor to shenanigans that unabashedly sets this novel apart from both its predecessors and other ghoul-centric fare .
Exciting, inspiring, expertly written and dangerously addictive, Red Ruin earns the full 5 stars (out of 5) on my Fang scale. Highly recommended for those horror fans who need a dose of pure adrenaline. And the best part? A sequel is already in the works. May there be many more!