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Plague

When it comes to scary movies, zombies just refuse to stay dead.  A staple of the genre ever since they first shambled across the frame in George A. Romero’s iconic fright flick Night of the Living Dead, very few supernatural threats have been as ubiquitous on the silver screen – although vampires could probably give them a run for their money. The latest directors to tackle the undead hordes are Swinburne University graduates Kosta Ouzas and Nick Kozakis. And with their debut film Plague stealing top spot on the iTunes horror charts, it would appear that there’s plenty of life in the cemetery yet.

"Nick’s a huge horror fan...I came from more of a drama background,” admits Ouzas, when quizzed on which of the two of them is the bigger gore-hound. “Of course the horror genre allows the stakes to be a lot higher. So when you’re writing a script with a limited amount of resources, if you can make the stakes life or death it makes for a far more interesting story. So it was a really good way to merge the two genres, and tell a story that we both really enjoyed doing.”
 
For Ouzas, the attraction of an outback zombie story was not the scenes of flesh-eating carnage, but rather the potential for social allegory. “One of the ideas explored in the film is the idea of the social contract,” he says. “The way we treat each other – is that an innate thing, or is that something that’s constructed by society? And what was interesting was getting rid of society and then seeing how people act towards one another.”
 
Of course, technicallyspeaking, the creatures in Ouzas’ script aren’t zombies, but rather infected humans in the vein of a film like 28 Days Later. “We felt that the traditional, slow-walking Romero zombies were really a reflection of the culture at the time, which was a sort of mass consumerism, with this foreboding presence lurking in the background,” says Ouzas. “But nowadays the political climate is a lot more chaotic and unpredictable, so we thought we’d reflect that by making faster zombies. It’s much more in your face.”
 
So too did the speed of the infected fit the pace of the movie’s production. After putting the finishing touches on the screenplay, Ouzas and Kozakis shot the entire film in just 15 days out near Mansfield in country Victoria. “It was pretty stressful, but we managed,” says Ouzas with a laugh. “We were just paying as we were going...we didn’t end up on the street, which is good.”
 
To help keep things moving, the pair split the directorial duties based on experience. “I come from a more visual perspective, and Kosta comes from the writing side of things,” says Kozakis. “So we made a plan that he would direct and communicate with the actors, while I would be communicating with the crew and making sure all the shots were perfect. Once I was happy with a shot and Kosta was happy with a performance, we could just move on to the next one...it was the only way we could have done it in such a short time.”
 
“The roles were really clearly defined,” agrees Ouzas. “We both had confidence in where our strengths were. Then it was just a matter of having a discussion in between takes. I don’t think we ever got into any conflict...we all wanted to make the best film we could, and to not allow our egos to get in the way.”
 
Whatever their methods, it obviously paid off. Less than 48 hours after it debuted on iTunes, the film had shot to first place on the platform’s list of most popular horror flicks – an achievement that both directors see as a validation of their decision to forgo a traditional theatrical run and instead release the film straight to the web.
 
“Our interest always lay in doing an online release,” says Ouzas. “It’s unfortunate, but unless you have a big name and a big marketing budget, you’re really going to get overlooked. So we thought [we] should just focus on doing an online thing, because that’ll enable us to keep making [films], rather than relying on an old antiquated model where you have to make all your money back at the box office or that’s it.”
 
“And that’s the other thing,” adds Kozakis. “The whole world is going digital, and Australia is catching up. With things like Netflix, everyone wants to be in the comfort of their own home. So we thought we’d try and head in that direction before we ever tried a conventional theatrical route.”
 
Naturally, the danger of releasing the film online first is that it exposes you to piracy – as we saw when another recent Australian zombie movie, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, hit the top of Pirate Bay’s list of most torrented films but struggle to make back its budget in actual sales.
 
“We knew it would be a big risk that as soon as it was released on iTunes there would be the potential for other people to rip it and put it out there,” says Kozakis. “But at the end of the day, it’s more exposure. People still discuss the film. Piracy is piracy, and it’s always going to exist. But as long as the feedback is positive, you’re going to find people to support the film.
 
BY TOM CLIFT

Plague is available on iTunes now. For more details visit catchtheplague.com.