As you may or may not know Netflix has released another new series under their name called Santa Clarita Diet which is about a Californian family living in a generic American suburb going about their daily lives. However, there’s a twist; Drew Barrymore, playing Sheila, is a zombie?!
Now I’ve seen a fair few zombie flicks in my time so immediately I was interested in this new take on the walking undead. Ever since Warm Bodies (2013) I feel that studios are branching out at different takes on zombies but they still follow the basic law on these creatures and I was interested to see if Santa Clarita Diet would do the same.
The episode starts with traditional character establishment we’re met with Sheila and Joel (Timothy Olyphant) as a semi-happy married couple in bed in the morning. We quickly learn that they’re estate agents and they have a car wanting, sassy teenager with a mild attitude, Abby (Liv Hewson). This all seems fairly normal, standardly cliché for an American drama about suburban Americans; nothing unsurprising, clichés make everyone’s life easier to grasp onto something new quickly.
Then it starts, Sheila has a sudden severe stomach ache and waves it off with a cheerful “I’ll be fine!” before continuing on with her day. Therefore as the audience member who’s seen the trailer and knows what she’s going to become, we’re now sat with the thought of “okay, so how’s she gonna die?” – to put it bluntly – “is it at work? On the way home? How gruesome is it going to be?”
Cue nice shiny house that they’re trying to sell to nice innocent people who just want a house to live in. Uh oh. They’re not going to have her suddenly becoming a crazy starving creature and instantly go on a killing streak are they?? Nope. They make her vomit on the nice, new white carpet and I’m not talking about a little vomit. I’m talking Pitch Perfect (2012) Center stage fountain of vomit; it was yellow and it went everywhere. If I hadn’t been eating dinner at the time I would’ve been impressed at the sheer volume of it!
Okay, so that was gross, but that’s the start of it all. Barrymore then politely excuses herself and we’re left to listen to her vomit from another room with the rest of the cast and in my opinion, once you’ve done a puke joke out in the public for all to see do we really need to hear it through the walls? Or are the studio just doing that for a comedy factor? I’m unsure, but it made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. Moving on, Joel the pot smoking husband – I know, weird subplot that appeared at the beginning for reasons unexplained yet – finally goes to check on Sheila and the room is like a horror scene; except where there should be blood, there’s vomit, everywhere, and I mean everywhere! Some poor set dresser has had to paint this yellowish goop, with bits, all over the place! It’s almost comical yet somehow I’m not laughing; that amount of vomit just isn’t plausible from one person regardless that they’re turning into a mythical being. So, she’s unconscious and Olyphant makes the assumption that she’s died, (which giving what the audience knows makes sense) however the facial expression he pulls isn’t quiet convincing and I wasn’t unsure if he was truly worried about his wife. Are you sad he’s dead or is grief not an emotion in your facial repertoire as an actor? It was odd to say the least!
Next, they glance over a weird thing that she’s thrown up somehow (that object would’ve choked a normal human I’m sure), take her to the hospital but make a snide social reference about the waiting times in A&E and decide to go home. This is where I can introduce our next major character, who from the banner on Netflix I thought was their son but is actually their ex-machina neighbour who’s of course the “weirdo” that likes horror films etc. He, Eric played by Skylar Gisondo, explains how her symptoms mean she’s undead and that eventually if she goes rogue they’ll have to bash her brains in. It’s nice to see a zombie universe that already knows this elimination technique.
This is about halfway through the episode and Sheila, the newly undead mom of suburbia, is loving her new “life” and she goes about doing all the things that have been established as “not her cup of tea because I’m a boring workaholic” in the first 10 minutes. Cue new guy we met for no real reason and can’t stop laughing at because he’s come a long way since Firefly (2002/3). They introduce him as the new competitor who becomes a pervert to justify his demise. Yes, Nathan Fillion is victim number one. Except it isn’t just a case of a neck bite that makes them sink below the cameras line of sight like most zombie flicks, we’re now introduced to the budget. By that I mean the part that shows off how much money the production has for special effects! Apparently, some..? The fake hand gushing blood looked okay at a glance but the lingering shot and close-up showed it’s true rigid fakeness; however it does keep up with the ‘comedy’ they keep trying to wedge into the script….
Ta-da! After a quick one-liner on being discovered eating her new colleague the episode ends; and quite frankly I sat there blinking at the screen for a moment unsure of what to make of it. I then turned to my partner and he simply shrugged and made an “ehhhh” sound.
So would I continue watching this? – possibly, I may need a second episode to fully get a feel for this title, as I’m wondering if they can get past other zombie movie clichés at all or will Barrymore go rogue eventually and they have to bash her head in? That I kinda want to see!
Would I recommend this to others? – to those who I know like that level of comedy (American gross comedy) and zombie flicks, yes. To those who like hardcore zombie thrillers like Resident Evil (2002) and 28 Days Later (2002) and aren’t a fan of situation comedy, then no.
In the end, it’s a unique take on a classic nightmare creature that I’m interested to see where they take this, but I’m not quite convinced yet if it’s going to be a good thing or not…