American Zombie (2007) D: Grace Lee

American Zombie

Low budget mockumentary, American Zombie played at the 2007 Slamdance festival, the same year the brilliant Chicago 10 opened the main, Sundance, festival. While the film has certain merits, it does not hold well in that company.

The essential premise of the film is that people afflicted with a ‘reanimating’ virus will spontaneously come back to ‘life’ when dead; having no memory of their previous lives and with varying degrees of mental capacity remaining. We also learn that only those who have suffered a violent death will reanimate.

Director Grace Lee and Cinematographer John Solomon (playing themselves in a self-deprecating skewering), are making a documentary on a small community of ‘Revenants’ struggling for a normal life. The focus of their film is on four subjects – slacker and zine creator Ivan who works the night shift and is coasting through his other-life with his zombie-chasing girlfriend; the love-lorn Judy who is searching for Mr Right among the living; Joel, the radical rights activist and head of Zombie advocacy group ZAG and Lisa, a middle-aged florist who does arrangements for other people’s funerals.

The fly-on-the-wall style action gravitates toward an annual zombies-only festival known as Live Dead, where the filmmakers attempt to get a better look at the inner sanctum of the zombie community only to face a certain amount of resistance.

All of which sounds like a fascinating premise with a sinister undertone from which you can expect a bucket of chills, right? Except, sadly, that is not the case. At its core, American Zombie is a stock-standard comedic mockumentary with a better than average idea. But it struggles when trying to push the boundaries of that genre into horror. There are a few moments of genuine gore. These are mostly centered around the documentary subjects’ ongoing fight against decaying and rotting flesh. However, for the most part it is a mockumentary. Which would be fine, except that the use of music (mediocre mostly synthetic music) at inappropriate times instantly destructs the documentary pretense.

Throughout American Zombie, any number of interesting subplots are opened up and never explored – such as the mysterious blue vials the zombies hide, Judy’s apparent memory loss of ordinary concepts and the Live Dead festival’s cultish happenings. What’s more, the ending; rushed and seemingly tacked on as an after thought, really could have been a pivotal moment in the second act.

American Zombie is far from the only film to take an interesting premise and ruin it. Offhand there’s Final Destination which degenerated into an over-hyped and vacuous franchise as well as The Day After Tomorrow which wasn’t a franchise but equally vacuous. The simple video shoot idea to get a low budget film off the ground is a solid one and you can’t fault the director for taking a shot on such a good idea. Ultimately, the film is enjoyable on some level, but falls too far short for any lasting impact in a saturated genre.

An interesting premise with a flawed execution. 3 stars


~ by mfnm on August 29, 2010.

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