HERD movie poster | ©2023 Dark Sky Films

HERD movie poster | ©2023 Dark Sky Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Ellen Adair, Mitzi Akaha, Jeremy Holm, Timothy V. Murphy, Corbin Bernsen, Amanda Fuller, Ronan Starns
Writers: James Allerdyce & Steven Pierce
Director: Steven Pierce
Distributor: Dark Sky Films
Release Date: October 13, 2023 (theatrical and digital)

Often, “this movie doesn’t know what it wants to be” is code for “this is a genre mashup that doesn’t work.” HERD is a genre mashup that does know what it wants to be, even if all of its elements don’t fully mesh.

On a macro level, HERD has a message about the dangers of overreaction. More immediately, it’s that resembles early seasons of THE WALKING DEAD, with people in a rural setting who may have more to fear from each other than from the ambulatory zombies.

Jamie (Ellen Adair) and Alex (Mitzi Akaha) are a couple mourning the death of their child. In a bid to save their relationship, they embark on a canoeing/camping trip in the rural region where Jamie was raised.

Since both women are tense, stressed out, and irritated with each other, they don’t fully listen to the radio news, which advises people to stay indoors due to an outbreak. But when Alex suffers a nasty leg fracture, they must find help.

The locals in this sparsely populated area have problems of their own, namely a zombie epidemic. Even so, the group led by Big John (Jeremy Holm) offers aid. Jamie and Alex are brought to a communal refuge that requires defense, both from the zombies and from a rival cadre of well-equipped marauders led by Sterling (Timothy V. Murphy).

But for a while, Jamie’s biggest fears are that she will run into her estranged father (Corbin Bernsen in a cameo) and that she and Alex will be shunned or worse if the truth of their relationship is revealed.

HERD is intermittently effective. It goes somewhere we don’t often see zombie movies go, and its argument stands up to scrutiny. It’s also well-acted, and director Steven Pierce makes the most of the natural scenery when we’re not inside the refuge compound.

But Pierce and co-screenwriter James Allerdyce give too many aspects equal weight. There’s the rocky romance of Jamie and Alex, there’s Jamie’s anger about her past, there’s Jamie’s apprehension about the locals, there’s the feuding survivors, and there are zombies.

This means there’s a lot going on, and we have trouble latching onto much of it emotionally. If HERD were configured differently, it might not matter so much. As it is, it feels like it warrants some details of how and why Jamie and Alex decided to work on their marriage in a place where Jamie feels so uncomfortable (surely other camping destinations were available).

Likewise, it might help to have a better notion of who everybody was to everybody else before the outbreak. We don’t know if it’s a shame these people are warring with each other, or if they weren’t getting along anyway. Most of all, we’re seldom scared of either the healthy or the afflicted.

HERD stands of from the zombie, uh, pack because it has something new to say, at least within the genre. The statement is more interesting than the road taken to reach it.

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