The only thing worse than a hooligan is an undead hooligan.
★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Thierry Poiraud and Benjamin Rocher.
One medium with possibly more sub-genres than horror is futbol, AKA, football, AKA soccer. There’s so many villains, tales, rivalries, and subtext to the beautiful game. Much like horror it’s a bottomless barrel of impossible possibilities. The other medium with more sub-genres than futbol and horror? Zombies.
A delicate tightrope of filmmaking is the merger of all three of these disparate and competing constructs — zombies, soccer, and horror. Turns out it’s an entirely possible and equally satisfying approach to storytelling — hysterically diced in to two halves.
Directed by Thierry Poiraud (Netflix’s Black Spot) and Benjamin Rocher (The Horde), 2014’s Goal of the Dead tells the deceptively simple story of a footballer’s return to his quaint and depressed hometown after a 17 year absence. Local hero and soccer savant Sam Lorit (Alban Lenoir) is returning to a sad little French hamlet after turning his back on the locals in the search of soccer greatness in the big city, Paris. The locals hate him, his teammates view him as tired and washed up, and his coach isn’t even entirely clear where he fits in to the starting 11. While Sam moved on to soccer stardom with Olympique FC he’d always held a fondness for his hometown club, Capelongue, and his old football mate, Jeannot (Sebastien Vandenberghe). Sadly, team strongman and enforcer Jeannot never made it out of Capelongue and, much like Sam, is frustratingly nearly the end of his mighty soccer career.
To prolong his soccer prowess Jeannot enlists the assistance of a local physician who inadvertently injects him with a mysterious substance that may/may not have dastardly come from Russia. Jeannot twists, howls, flexes and zombifies right before our collective eyes. Salivating massive amounts of white liquid and running spasmodically like the speedy fore-bearers in 28 Days Later, Jeannot rabidly goes in search of the game.
On and off the pitch the symbolic importance of the beautiful game, and what it means to everyone involved, is on full display. The youthful and arrogant star looking to get out of France and pining to play for the English Premier League. The plucky journalist hoping to frame the perfect human interest story. The flashy soccer agent questioning the staid norms and traditions of the game. The mopey and boozy ultras looking for the impossible win. And we even get to witness the complicated after effects of soccer star Sam’s one-night-stand 17 years prior — his daughter, Cleo’ (Tiphaine Daviot).
Early on in the match Sam is sent off with a foolish red card. Troubled by his love for Capelongue and the fact that his entire hometown now universally detests his turncoat ways, Sam heads to the locker room to quietly contemplate the end of his playing days. As Sam mires in his futbol turmoil, Jeannot begins to rampage through Capelongue turning every living soul in to rage-filled zombies. The town is zombified faster than Dani Alves flying down the right flank of the pitch.
Goal of the Dead harmoniously weaves all the various pieces and parts of soccer culture together in a hysterical and bloody affair. While there are a handful of somber and even touching moments, the film is largely punctuated with gory humor. Originally released in conjunction with FIFA’s 2014 World Cup, Goal of the Dead is the perfect antidote to a sport whose organization and financial leanings are occasionally on the edge of dead. As we know all too well after watching zombi films for 50 years, the zombi is merely a vessel where we can park our insecurities, social maladies, and interpersonal quandaries. By equally celebrating the off-field importance of futbol supporters, Goal of the Dead pleasantly reminds us about the majesty of sport and the elegance of the collective good.
Goal of the Dead is likely Rated R or 18+, but if you’re in the U.S., you might have to poke around for a copy to watch or stream.