IT CAME FROM THE WATER. Can a Polish zombie movie be successful?
The first Polish movie about zombies. The very announcement in the form of this one sentence evokes an uncertain smile. If anyone saw teasers or trailers, they certainly wondered how much the subject would be screwed up, how much it would blow with a typically Polish approach to genre cinema.
Because Polish creators can’t do horror, SF, action, adventure, right? They always have to elude conventional solutions, trying to find their own way through expressive ambition, which most often results from ignorance of genres and some kind of feeling of superiority towards pop culture. Even if the films turned out to be good because of their Polishness, if they turned out to be successful, there was usually remorse in the background for such an intense detachment from entertainment – as if unpretentious fun at the cinema and the joy of quoting the classics of the most often American cinema were a crime against good to taste.
Concerns about It Came From The Water went exactly along these lines – that zombies would be bathed in excessive symbolism, that they would become an emanation of a larger (current? important?) problem that we must face as humanity or as Poles. I was afraid that some moral perspective would appear, thanks to which the creators look at the complicated life of the protagonist.
I say so much about fears or – if you prefer – low expectations for a simple reason: because the screening of It Came From The Water turned out to be great fun, which has not been seen in Polish cinema for a long time (and considering zombies – never). Even two quite successful approaches to genre horror in recent years – All My Friends are Dead and Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight – were not enough to say that Poles can do it. It Came From The Water did it and in great style!
Generation Z and zombies
The most expressive character of the film is Generation Z – it is the first film about young people born in the 21st century, which does not try to present an authentic profile of the generation and does not focus on the vivisection of their problems. And that’s an advantage. But to be precise: it’s about a big-city group of high school graduates drawn with a very thick line. It’s a clear distinction that defines all champions to a large extent. The creators pay attention to each of them, although the drawn portrait does not reflect all the nuances or challenges that each of them faces. They are the carrier of appropriate characters that are supposed to describe not very complicated motivations or choices, although there are a lot of suggestions in the background that there may be more going on than is visible. It is clear that It Came From The Water draws on the naturalness of John Hughes’ cinema or – perhaps even more so – the American Pie series and other party sources stemming from unambitious, though adequate to the subject, needs.
The whole film is clearly tailored to play with a well-known convention, but in connection with an unobvious issue. According to many studies, Zs consider ecological issues, climate warming, environmental pollution to be the greatest challenge facing humanity. It is from them that we start, this is the trigger associated with the zombie epidemic. It starts relatively quickly, wittily and perversely, because the context of the covid epidemic is additionally used, which is only later properly tuned with ecology. Before the carnage takes place in the second part of the film, we observe young people in somewhat absurd, somewhat terrifying situations – here petty love affairs, there meetings on the road (a great episode by Fabijański), a provincial gangster, some minor breakthroughs and seaside locals. And then a big party, then kilos of drugs, liters of drunk alcohol, some sex, a lot of loud music. In this chaos, zombies suddenly appear – rather the fast ones, more like the corpses from Snyder’s film than the bemused brain-eaters from Romero. The apocalypse is accompanied by terror, curiosity and tons of irony and clumsiness like from Wright’s Shaun of the Living Dead. This is the egg convention from which the creators do not depart even for a moment, because they know exactly what they love as moviegoers.
It Came From The Water is born out of love for B movies, for American teen dramas and comedy horrors that don’t claim to be anything more than entertainment. There is a lot of slack and unpretentiousness in this film, which perfectly fits into this non-serious world. Xavery Żuławski did a great job here, gluing his film from scraps well known to cinemagoers, and even playing with the classics of Polish cinema when he enters to quote… Wajda’s Kanal. He rejected artistic ecstasy and strongly focused on the authenticity of emotions, words, dialogues, which is helped by the sensational young cast led by Mikołaj Kubacki (who somewhat resembles Timothé Chalamet).
It Came From The Water is therefore something really fresh, energetic – and simply good cinema fun.