What We Become (Sorgenfri) | Mille Dinesen, Troels Lyby, Ella Solgaard, Benjamin Engel, Marie Hammer Boda, Mikael Birkkjær, Therese Damsgaard, Diana Axelsen | Writer & Director: Bo Mikkelsen
Zombies. At this point, you either hate them or love them.
Their presence has over-saturated movies and television to their gills with typically pedestrian tales featuring hordes of nameless moaning corpses shuffling along and eating hapless survivors along the way. After repeated exposures, it wouldn’t be surprising if viewers become drooling zombies themselves after multiple viewings of ponderous ennui. Sadly, those special films that twist and contort the genre into a wholly unique vision are few and far in between. Luckily for us, there’s just a film that may reinvigorate your interests in this oft-tread horror motif. What We Become (Danish title Sorgenfri) takes audiences on a divergent path along familiar territory, infusing the standard dread and gore expected in a zombie film with an authentic and rational take on the relationship between the people and the government that they presume would protect them.
The film begins simply enough, making quick introductions of our main cast: a listless husband named Dino (Troels Lyby) and his disillusioned wife Pernille (Mille Dinesen) are trying to rekindle the magic lost between them. Crumbling marriage aside, they must also deal with their prototypically rebellious teenage son Gustav (Benjamin Engel) and their youngest, a haphazardly inquisitive daughter named Maj (Ella Solgaard). As with most sleepy little towns, all appears well on the surface of Sorgenfri. While it’s apparent every household is dealing with personal strife, neighbors gladly put on their masks and exchange smiles and pleasantries at block parties. In the meantime, new girl Sonja (Marie Hammer Boda) arrives on the block which naturally piques Gustav’s interest.
This isn’t anything you haven’t seen before in a zombie film, establishing discord among a troubled group of people before all hell breaks loose. What director Bo Mikkelsen is able to accomplish pares away any frivolity that tends to make the initial surviving characters unrelatable or straight up unlikable. That isn’t to claim some of them go and do some rather boneheaded things to make the narrative more dramatic. Nevertheless, all of them, with exception to poor little Maj are quite aware of the grave enormity of what’s occurring around them.
Like most zombie movies, little is revealed about what caused the outbreak and how it’s being combated. Literally overnight, the government quarantines the affected neighborhoods and monitors residences for potential exposure. It’s obvious the family and their neighbors will eventually circle down the drain but it’s not due to their ineptitude or disbelief in what’s happening in their country. Rather, their blind obedience to authority nearly spells their end as the military quietly and steadily changes protocol from quarantine to extermination.
It’s a smart take to showcase this side of the survival tale that’s seldom explored. As mentioned earlier, these characters are very perceptive, well-rounded beings with distinct views on how to prepare themselves for the inevitable. Supplies from the government eventually cease and personnel on patrol are relocated at key positions to snipe anyone hoping to break through the safe zone. What follows are a series of events that mentally makes or breaks everyone left in the household. As their numbers dwindle and all routes of escape swiftly narrow, Mikkelsen forces every character to choose what’s most important to them and hastily decide how far they’re willing to go to endure this living hell.
The film concludes in traditional fashion, due to an unfortunate circumstance for one of the leads, once again banding a fractured clan together during their most perilous, final moments. Ultimately, this import from Denmark will shake one from the doldrums of typical zombie fare, fashioning a strong sympathetic streak for a small family affixed in the eye of a nationwide catastrophe.
What We Become – produced by Meta Film and distributed by IFC Midnight – opens May 13 at the IFC Center in New York and the Arena Theater in Los Angeles. It is also available On Demand and all digital platforms.
What We Become = 8/10