Amazon Prime – Stream It Or Skip It?
Usually in a zombie show, the zombies are the bad guys, or at least an existential threat that looms as the still-living humans around them try not to kill each other. But what if the zombies are the good guys, or at least are targeting a bad guy to rip to shreds? That’s the thought behind the new Mexican series S.O.Z.: Soldiers or Zombies.
Opening Shot: An ant crawls along the sandy desert floor. “Hidalgo County, New Mexico, USA” says a graphic in Spanish. A coyote is bringing a group of undocumented immigrants across the Mexico-US border.
The Gist: When the coyote turns on the migrants and robs them, they see a soldier in the distance. The soldier runs down a hill at great speed, jumps the robber and starts tearing his flesh off. We then see that the soldier is a zombie.
Two days earlier, at the Red Wing military base, a scientist named Augustus Snowman (Toby Schmitz) is working on a serum that is supposed to make soldiers impervious to pain and almost superhuman killing machines. So far, he’s been injecting the serum into lab pigs, without a ton of success. His boss, Colonel Murdoch (James Moses Black), tells him that the senator who helped get the program its funding is touring the lab, so he needs to get his act together and show them something.
In the meantime, in a prison in Chihuahua, Alonso Marraquin (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), a druglord known as “The Da Vinci of crime”, is scheduled to be extradited to the U.S. on his birthday. He knows that there are people there who want him to leave in a body bag. He hopes that the prison director, Cesar Contreras (Alejandro Calva), won’t betray him. A new corrections officer, though, gives him pause.
There’s a crowd outside the prison, including reporters like Lilia Acal Prado (Fátima Molina), who plans to sneak into the prison and try to get an interview with Marraquin. Also prepping for the extradition is an elite police squadron that will be working the transfer. Commandante Rafael Becerril (Horacio Garcia Rojas) pumps them up about their dangerous assignment, with them all yelling they’re not afraid because “We’re already dead!”
Back at the lab, Murdoch brings the senator to Snowman; when he injects the serum into a pig, it throws up and dies. After the senator tells them to fix this so she has something to show her colleagues, Murdoch orders Sgt. Vicky Valencia (Vico Ortiz) to dispose of the dead pigs; she complies with the order by putting them in a junkyard by a drain pipe near the border.
As Marraquin’s transfer commences, the new CO comes in to assassinate him, but Marraquin gets the upper hand and kills him; he escapes through a tunnel that’s under the cell’s toilet, after Contreras turned off the security cameras. At the same time, in the desert, a coyote (of the furry variety) gets gutted by the reanimated pigs, who are now all zombified.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Walking Dead, but perhaps with the zombies being the actual good guys.
Our Take: S.O.Z.: Soldiers Or Zombies gives an interesting take on the zombie genre. For one, the episodes are half-hours that are generally fast-paced but pack a lot of story punch. But creators Nicolas Entel and Miguel Tejada-Flores has also created an environment where the zombies may actually be the good guys, depending on what perspective you give to this show after its first couple of episodes.
We almost never see the origins of a zombie outbreak on one of these kinds of shows. We generally join the apocalypse in the middle. But the first episode shows us the mistakes that are made that released the infected piggies into the public, then the second episode brings us to the situation of the title, where the elite squadron that was supposed to bring Marraquin to DEA agents Joel Taft (Steve Wilcox) and Jim Bushfield (Jon Roberts) somehow get trapped in the tunnel and run into the piggies, who go down that drain pipe.
Yes, it’s a bit convenient. But we had to get to that point somehow, just so we can get these soldiers to the state where they’re undead fighting machines — who, by the way, still want to go after Marraquin.
The actual plot of the series is relatively thin, save for Marraquin having difficulty connecting to his son Lucas (Nery Arredondo) who feels he abandoned him and his now-dead mother. But it’ll be interesting to see what Marraquin does when he’s surrounded by a growing cadre of zombies on one side, Snowman and the U.S. military on the other, and the DEA agent Taft somewhere in between.
Because the eight episodes are all less than 30 minutes each, there’s no need to fill time with exploring feelings. It’ll be a fast-paced build up to what promises to be an apocalyptic battle, and that’s all we really want from a show like this. A little character development, but a lot of zombie flesh eating and other action sequences. The shorter episodes also help because, to be honest, the acting and dialogue — especially for the American characters — is a little stiff and stilted.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: We zoom in on a supposedly dead pig, whose eyes suddenly open and look zombified. Then we see the group of zombified pigs start running after the coyote.
Sleeper Star: Whoever animated those pigs did a good job of showing what pig zombies would look like in real life.
Most Pilot-y Line: When one of the experimented-on pigs looks like it’s still alive, Murdoch takes it and throws it violently to the floor in order to kill it. That’s a bit too much, bro.
Our Call: STREAM IT. S.O.Z.: Soldiers Or Zombies is just a lot of dumb fun. We admire its attempts to go deeper than just its “zombies vs. the U.S. Army vs. big-time drug lord” story, but considering how short the episodes are, we’re in the rare position where we’re OK with a show’s lack of character development.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
Stream S.O.Z.: Soldiers Or Zombies On Prime Video