Dir. Grace Lee
American Zombie admirably tries to break out of the zombie film rut with its mockumentary look at the zombies living among us, glossing over the outbreak/apocalypse cliché to delve into how humans and zombies might be able to accommodate each other once the plague has plateaued and life develops some sense of normalcy. Using gay pride, civil rights and the homeless as metaphors for the perils of zombie acceptance, American Zombie trails a skater zombie with a dead end convenience store job and a zombie ’zine hobby, an undead florist with a penchant for string art and funeral bouquets, a zombie community organizer, and a vegan foodbank worker who doesn’t like to admit she’s the recently reanimated. It’s a clever set up, but the film’s tone gets horribly lost somewhere between wry, dead pan humor and the expected corpse rending carnage we expect, ultimately never really delivering on either.
Zombology: Once again our good friend the viral outbreak rears its infectious head. In American Zombie, you never know whether you’ve contracted the virus, which attacks the central nervous system, because it lays dormant until its host dies a violent death. Only then will the revenants, as officials call them, come back to life. There are three strains of zombisms at work. The ferals, who are the mindless monstrosities we’ve all come to love, hardly figure into the story. Low functioning zombies can hold down menial labor jobs and support themselves. The high functioning zombies, who look suspiciously like normal people in white pancake makeup and heavy eye shadow, take up most of the film, recounting their daily lives, hopes and dreams. And attend a mysterious, no humans allowed rave/art fest/hippy freakout in the desert called “Live Dead.” Hey, I wonder what’s happening there.
The film’s central conceit—a documentary about the quotidian lives of everyday zombies—actually works against the movie. If, as our faux documentarians intend, you make a movie about the boring lives of everyday zombies, you tend to end up with a boring film about people who work in convenience stores, collect cat figurines and make string art. As a fake documentary, American Zombie nails the pop sociology vibe of dumbed down History Channel specials. As a zombie film, it lacks tension, gore, and most importantly, brain chomping mayhem. Still, it’s only 37 percent as bad as Hell of the Living Dead.