The horror western is the genre mash-up that just hasn’t seemed to translate to the big screen. Jonah Hex was a big-budget attempt that simply fell flat. There was the little indie-film gem The Burrowers (2008) that managed to be a fun little film but just never grabbed the audience on a larger scale. But it seems the public is still craving television and film filled with zombies, and since we’ve seen just about every other iteration of the zombie genre, it was inevitable we would see them taking on the Wild West. Revelation Trail doesn’t just dip its toe into zombie western horror; it dives right into this massacre of the undead.
After a small town is overrun by zombies, a preacher (Daniel Van Thomas) and a marshall (Daniel Britt) set off on a journey of survival and in the process kill as many zombies as they can along the way. Really, there isn’t all too much more to this plot, since the film attempts to be more of a character study, with these conflicting characters trying to survive in this unforgiving landscape. Of course the preacher continues to see the humanity in these undead individuals, and the marshall sees them as simply the damned who need to be destroyed. It’s a jumping-off point that should fill this film with plentiful moments of moral dilemmas between the two individuals, but the film seems to be afraid to get beneath the surface of these characters.
With a show like The Walking Dead, we’ve seen many instances about characters struggling to maintain their humanity in a world that belongs to the undead. The one lesson that seems to have been made clear is that those who tend to hesitate and try to hold onto this humane way of viewing this world will always find themselves dead. Yet somehow the preacher in this film seems to break from this familiar mold. He’s a survivor who carries the guilt of all that he has had to do to survive, whereas the marshall just goes on seeing things in black and white.
For an independent film, this is a western that is huge in scale and does deliver a lot of carnage along the way. If you are in the mood for a high body count film that doesn’t pull its punches, this film does deliver. But we don’t get much in the way of original kills. This isn’t trying to be a gore fest, but instead holds true to the more traditional zombie films where it’s the unrelenting hordes that are the threat, rather than the superhuman sprinters.
There is some excellent cinematography on display here as we get to see many of the wilderness locations through the various seasons. The winter photography I’m more partial to and would have been into seeing more of this zombie mayhem in the snow.
Director John P. Gibson has a solid effort in Revelation Trail; I can appreciate that he doesn’t let a smaller budget limit his big-scale vision. This is an effort that may at first glance seem like a run-of-the-mill zombie venture, but instead it’s a tease of what Gibson could do with a bigger budget and a story of equal or greater scale. This is a title that boasts so much potential for what could happen with a director who has a solid vision and a grasp of the horror genre.