Unless you count the tired, dishevelled-looking state of most guests towards the end of the events, zombies haven't yet played a huge part in regional film festivals. But this year's Gulf Film Festival features not one but two movies in which the undead take a starring role. Competing in the Gulf Features competition, Lockdown: Red Moon Escape from Qatar sees two friends encounter a group of zombie types on a road trip (the friends, not the zombies), while the Bahrain/UAE production Envy The Dead takes place in the aftermath of a zombie epidemic in an unnamed Arab city.
Isa Swain, the UK-born New York Film Academy Abu Dhabi graduate behind Envy The Dead, says that the horror genre – particularly zombies – often reflects changing attitudes about society, providing metaphors for life, but that is something that hasn't yet been utilised in the region.
"Horror is, more than any other, grounded in its own convention, a way of talking about things without talking about them," he says. "It's usually addressing some universal frailty, and each sub-genre romanticises the conscious or the subconscious impulses at the root of these frailties to a major extreme, to the point where what we're presented with is an obscene caricature. But there have been so few attempts to do it with the cultures and landscapes of the Middle East, which is ripe for exploitation."
Swain, who worked as an assistant to Tobe Hooper on the set of Djinn, Image Nation Abu Dhabi's forthcoming UAE-based horror that is due for release in the summer, has several other ideas for horror possibilities. Image Nation is owned by Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns The National.
Swain says: "Think about vampires in the Middle East. Who needs a coffin if you can just dig under the sand at night? Just think about that visually – there's so much you could do."
Lockdown: Red Moon Escape, which is the Qatari director Mohammed Al Ibrahim's first feature film, actually does includes vampires, along with a werewolf and some zombies, who see off one of the main characters, while the other gets taken for questioning in a prison.
"It's a prison of supernatural beings, a bit like a Khaleeji version of the supernatural," says Al Ibrahim, who attended the Gulf Film Festival last year with a short film. "As the film progresses you learn that that the zombies have escaped, that there's a crack in the prison."
Although Al Ibrahim describes his film as more of a thriller, it seems there's some good potential for regional horror across the world. Envy the Dead, which was shot in Abu Dhabi and features abaya-wearing zombies shuffling around deserted shopping malls late at night and zombie attacks in underground passageways, has been showing at several international film festivals.
"It's been doing well, particularly at other Arab festivals around the world. They've eaten it up," says Swain.
Envy the Dead is screening on Friday at 6.30pm at Grand Cinema 10 in Dubai and again on Monday at 3.30pm at Grand Cinema 12. For information on the entire line-up of the Gulf Film Festival, visit www.gulffilmfest.com