Have you ever wondered what a horror version of Jersey Shore would be like? I know I haven’t. In fact, I’m pretty sure the thought has never even crossed my mind before. So why am I thinking about it now? It’s because if there was ever a chance that I might wonder about it in the future, that chance is totally gone. I will never need to wonder what a horror version of Jersey Shore would be like because I’ve seen it, and its name is Witness Infection.
Witness Infection is a horror comedy directed by Andy Palmer, and it stars Robert Belushi, Jill-Michele Melean, Vince Donvito, Carlos Alazraqui, and Bret Ernst. It’s about two rival mob families, the Serrellis and the Miolas, who are mistakenly transferred to the same city by the witness protection program. To keep the peace between them, the heads of the families arrange a marriage between two of their single members, Carlo Serrelli and Patricia Miola, and when Carlo reluctantly agrees, his best friends Gina and Vince try to support him through his predicament. But unbeknownst to them, a zombie infection is spreading across town, and it throws a serious wrench into everybody’s plans.
When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was really intrigued. I’m half Italian, so I was excited to see cinematic doppelgangers of my family fight some zombies. I’m a big fan of the show Everybody Loves Raymond for exactly that reason (minus the zombies, of course), and I was hoping this film could capture some of that same magic.
But man, was I disappointed. Witness Infection takes way too much of a Jersey Shore approach to Italian culture. For example, pretty much everybody in it is really loud and obnoxious, and they all curse like sailors. The women are about as superficial and materialistic as you can get, and the men are just arrogant jerks. Sure, some stuff in the film made me feel right at home, like the accents and the Italian words the characters often throw into their English conversations, but on the whole, it felt like the movie just played off Italian stereotypes rather than genuine Italian culture.
It gave me the impression that the filmmakers behind it don’t know much about Italians beyond what they’ve seen on TV and in other movies (to be clear, I’m not saying they actually don’t; the movie just comes across that way), so for someone like me who grew up in an Italian family, the film simply feels inauthentic. If you’ve never experienced our culture, that might not bother you nearly as much (or even at all), but I personally couldn’t get past it.
And for that same reason, the comedy in Witness Infection also fell pretty flat for me. When the movie doesn’t try to be Jersey Shore vs. zombies, it actually has some really funny moments, but unfortunately, those moments are relatively few and far between. The film relies mainly on its extreme Italian stereotypes for laughs, so since I didn’t like that portrayal, I didn’t like the humor either.
All that being said, the movie does have some bright spots among its human elements. In particular, Carlo and Gina are the least stereotypically Italian characters in the entire film (in fact, Gina isn’t even Italian), so they feel like real people rather than just reality show stereotypes. They also have a really nice friendship, so when it turns into an all-too-obvious romance, you actually root for them despite how painfully telegraphed it is.
But they’re not the best part of Witness Infection. Hands down, that honor goes to the zombies. While they have their flaws too, on the whole, they’re way better than the human characters. They’re vicious, they’re hungry, and the film even adds a nice touch to their appearance that you don’t normally see in other movies. Unlike most undead flesh-eaters, these have big boils on their skin, and while that’s admittedly not a huge change, it’s always nice to see new wrinkles to mythologies that have grown overly familiar.
When you put this all together, you essentially get a tale of two movies. On the one hand, it’s a horror movie version of Jersey Shore that exaggerates Italian stereotypes to the point of eye-roll-inducing ridiculousness, but on the other hand, it has a bunch of fun zombie action that puts a nice little twist on these undead monsters. It’s a mix of good and bad, so my overall verdict basically comes down to how the film splits its time between those two halves.
And unfortunately, the humans and their family dynamics get way more attention than the zombies. The movie is about eighty minutes long, but the horror doesn’t get going in earnest until the last half hour or so. You get a few glimpses of the zombie problem before that, but the first fifty minutes don’t give you anything substantial. That part of the film is almost entirely about the things I didn’t like, and that sealed the deal for me.
So at the end of the day, I can’t recommend Witness Infection. While it definitely has its redeeming qualities, like the zombies and the better human characters, it just focuses too much on the things that don’t work. The movie might be worth a watch if you’re a fan of Jersey Shore or if you’re an absolute zombie fanatic, but if you’re not either of those things, I suggest you give this one a pass.
Witness Infection hits VOD platforms on March 30.