Escape to the Cove is the sort of ultra-low-budget horror fare that feels build specifically for a niche audience, destined to live on the back pages of a streaming service or on cheap DVDs sold at horror conventions. That’s not a knock. I’m in that niche audience. There’s something exhilarating about watching this type of 90-minute zombie flick with minimal zombies and maximum talking about zombies — the sort of movie where actors are trapped on one set with two different dressings, trying to make it feel like the camera is capturing a whole world rather than just the interior of a boat the crew rented for a weekend. Movies like this ask the audience for patience and understanding. So what if the zombies look kind of bad on land, the script is flabby with dialogue in the middle or one of the performers is giving it his all when the script definitely calls for a little moderation on his part? It’s all part of a whole experience of watching ultra-low-budget filmmaking, which often operates on two levels: the story being told and the knowledge that you, the viewer, are witnessing a small team bring about a vision without the resources of a major production. Sometimes you even get cool water zombies in the bargain.
If you’re on its wavelength, Escape to the Cove is a lot of fun.
Cove tells the story of Cairo Yazid (Garrett Barghash), a survivor trying to make his way out of a post-plague, zombie-infested wasteland. He ends up alongside ex-mercenary Solomon (Robert Enriquez, who also wrote and directed the film). The two hang out on an old yacht by the seashore where they’re presumably safer from the undead hordes. Solomon has a tragic backstory. He’s an ex-mercenary who left his unit because they became too extreme, but the apocalypse cut short his retirement. He ended up being forced to kill his infected wife, for which his daughter has not forgiven him. She’s now at the Cove, a virus-free safe haven for the living. Cairo wants to get there, but Solomon is hesitant: he doesn’t feel himself as worthy of redemption.
They’re being hunted by Luther (Mike Markoff), Solomon’s former teammate. Solomon murdered Luther’s father when he left the mercenary life. Markoff’s performance as Luther is a little much, although the character is arguably always a little drunk; his energy is still so high, and so nearly campy, that it doesn’t quite mesh with the otherwise grounded tone of Enriquez’s story. Luther’s father is played in a short sequence by Eric Roberts, perhaps the king of showing up to steal a scene or two in this type of production. Roberts on the marquee means this is probably some grade-A schlock.
I don’t use the word “schlock” derisively but lovingly, with full admiration for what Enriquez and crew accomplished with their small-scale post-apocalypse narrative. Schlock isn’t trash. Schlock is where the exciting, strange stuff happens. The best example is Enriquez’s use of water zombies. These “wanderers” lurk in the depths, their glowing blue eyes eerily lighting up the bay. The way their presence is revealed by the creepy glowing reminded me in small part of John Carpenter’s The Fog, in which a glowing, pulsating fog portends killer ghosts. The water zombies are an ingenious and effective way of using such overplayed creatures in a creative fashion. There’s not much worse than the prospect of falling overboard … unless you’re also falling into the arms of glowing, cannibalistic freaks. It’s much more effective than when the zombies are seen on land.
Unfortunately, there’s not quite enough going on action-wise in the middle act; Cove lags a bit. There are plenty of big character revelations, but it could stand to be punched up. One long sequence in which Luther and his crew attack Cairo and Solomon is fairly effective but spends too much time on Luther speaking slowly about options rather than acting. It contrasts poorly with the simultaneous confrontation between Solomon, a baddie and some zombies.
Still, it’s nice to watch a film like Escape to the Cove that, despite lacking all the bells and whistles of larger productions, still manages to be entertaining, creative and even a little spooky. Despite its flaws, I quite enjoyed it and recommend it for fans of micro-budget horror.