Review: I Am Omega

i-am-omega-cover001I Am Omega (US-2007; dir. Griff Furst)

“The Last Man Alive Must Battle a Planet of the Dead”

With its main protagonist the (apparently) lone survivor of a global plague that has turned the rest of humanity into murderous corpses, the Asylum’s low-budget I Am Omega was clearly motivated by the high-profile arrival of the big-budget Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend (US-2007; dir. Francis Lawrence). The title makes reference to both the story’s literary origins, Richard Matheson’s classic SF/horror thriller, I Am Legend (1954) — and, of course, the aforementioned film based on it — and the previous official film adaptation of the novel, The Omega Man (US-1971; dir. Boris Sagal), starring Charlton Heston. In turn the tagline drags in reference to the first film version of the story — The Last Man on Earth (US/Italy-1964; dir. Ubaldo Ragona), with Vincent Price in the lead. Thus all bases are covered.

So while I Am Omega may be a fourth, albeit minor, pseudo-adaptation of Matheson’s I Am Legend, it certainly makes no attempt to hide the lineage. In the end, however, the similarities are cosmetic. If Will Smith’s I Am Legend (along with all the previous versions) can be castigated for failing to faithfully dramatise the central theme (and in particular the resolution) of Matheson’s novel, this Asylum “version” does little more than give a nod here and there to the conceptual starting point of the original story. It features Mark Dacascos as an isolated individual who has survived the holocaust and now dedicates himself to hunting down the zombies that are all that is left of humanity — until a few other people turn up, that is. And that’s where the similarity ends. Yes, there are assorted “homage” moments, but apart from these it’s simply a low-budget post-apocalyptic tale of a man fighting zombies and as such can hardly be considered guilty of plagiarism — any more than Romero’s Night of the Living Dead can be considered to have plagiarised The Last Man on Earth, despite imagery inspired by it.

Given that I Am Omega is a low-rent shadow of Will Smith’s I Am Legend release, it is inevitable that the two would be compared. Frankly, for what it is, I Am Omega manages to be an entertaining, if narrowly focused scifi/horror action drama, its limited perspectives far less annoying than I Am Legend‘s big-budget pretensions. Sure, I Am Omega shows little aspiration beyond its B-film aesthetics. But it offers decent low-budget action sequences, an enjoyable soundtrack and even some extravagant zombiesque gore. Its effective undead make-up FX — which, on at least one occasion, reminded me of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi — results in the creation of more satisfying monsters than those laughable CGI “mutants” in the Smith version, despite the fact that their numbers never really add up to the horde depicted on the DVD cover.

At the low end of the production scale, you work with what you’ve got. Though it must inevitably lack the apocalyptic scope of a big-budget film such as I Am Legend, I Am Omega does use a few derelict inner-city backstreets, sewer tunnels and broken fences to suggest the sort of urban wasteland that the box-office giant could show us directly, thanks to a load of expensive CGI, bigger cameras and more upmarket locations. Meanwhile, Alexander Yellen’s cinematography, including washed-out colour and careful tinting effects, manages to give the film’s imagery a claustrophobic post-disaster atmosphere. The editing is excellent, too. And director Furst keeps things moving with admirable vim, after a slow-burn, but not uninteresting, beginning — though the enthusiastic use of flashbacks here seems to irritate some viewers. But, yes, the film even takes a stab (with variable success) at emotional depth.

mark_lgIn fact, Dacascos (at right) does a good action-hero job of depicting an isolated and tormented individual veering close to insanity as he hunts the ravenous dead, only to find himself in conflict with other, still-human survivors. The actor’s martial-arts background (he has starred in a long run of genre films and TV shows, including The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, Crying Freeman, Kickboxer 5 and an episode of CSI) is used unobtrusively, except for one gratuitous scene when he goes through his training moves to show us what he can do — though to be fair the scene arguably works as presenting Renchard’s desperate attempt to gain focus and purge himself of escalating emotional instability through physical self-control.

Naturally, the title ends up being more-or-less irrelevant. Renchard is neither the last man alive nor some sort of legendary messiah figure — either literally (as in the previous films) or ironically (as in the novel). It is merely a marketing reference point.

But if you watch the film for what it is — an exploitative production from a company that specialises in low-budget direct-to-DVD genre movies that reference current trends and contemporary box-office giants — and if you can put aside any expectation that the film could ever hope to be as visually spectacular as the big guns of SFX cinema, I Am Omega is an oft-exciting and generally entertaining action-horror flick. It may be doomed to be seen as a mere footnote in the cinematic history of Matheson’s story, but it is nowhere near as disposable as it might have been.

I Am Omega has been released in Australia by Peacock Films and should be available in your local DVD rental store.

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