Monday, October 8, 2012

The Third Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series - Movie #2: American Zombie

American Zombie is one of those movies that I like better after the fact, the more I think about it.  I think it's because I like the concept more than the execution.  The extremely low-budget - but not at all campy; it plays it straight - AZ plays as the making-of a documentary about the population of zombies residing in greater Los Angeles.  In this universe, humans and zombies are co-existing side by side.  High-functioning zombies retain most of their brain function and hold jobs like customer service reps and Quik-E-Mart clerks; low-functioning zombies can hold factory jobs or collect shopping carts; "feral" zombies are difficult to differentiate from really bad-off homeless folks.  Zombies come into being when a dormant virus is activated in humans as a result of a violent death; some zombies are also pushed by the virus's need to procreate but there are few reported instances of zombie bites - in fact, the ZAG, Zombie Action Group, led by high-functioning zombie Joel, is offended by the thought that zombies eat people.

The documentary crew, led by directors Grace and John, follow four high-functioning zombies around their daily lives: activist Joel, convenience store clerk Ivan, CSR Judy, florist Lisa.  Interestingly, zombies mostly seem to have four-letter names, have varying degrees of physical issues (Lisa goes to an alternative medicine woman for treatment of her maggot-infested gut wound) and are so very lonely which manifests in the need to connect with people (hence Joel's activism and Judy's telephone job) and create art: Ivan makes a 'zine, Ivan's roommate Glen is a charcoal artist, Judy scrapbooks everything and Lisa makes string art.

Once a year, the zombie community gets together for an undead-only Burning Man-esque fest called Live Dead.  The documentarians have to get special permission to film here: Grace is looking to capture all facets of the culture while John thinks something fishy is going on out there.  The first couple of days and nights are simply counter-culture revelry with art installations, singalongs, BBQs and midnight raves.  But things get darker on the last night: what the organizers and participants insist is performance art, the filmmakers are convinced is a live human sacrifice.  I won't give away the entire ending, but we are left with serious behavior changes on the part of the documentary subjects and Joel's ominous promise that one day the zombies will rise up and reclaim this world.

See, it all sounds good on paper; there's just not much too it onscreen.  The little details are nice: Ivan trying to eat food with as many preservatives as possible to keep his body from deteriorating; Suzy eating an all-vegan diet and collecting cat figurines because she can't have real cats ... because she's allergic; the cow brains at the Live Dead zombie cookout.  But just nothing much happens, it's not at all scary and there's very little zombie gore or violence - very little payoff at the end, whereas I had thought we were building to a big finish.  It's uncommonly subtle for a zombie movie which is kind of fun, I guess, but if you're in the mood for living dead carnage, you just won't find it here in American Zombie.

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