Twitter Plot Summary: Mockumentary investigating the culture of a community of living dead in LA.
Director: Grace Lee
Key Cast: Austin Basis, Jane Edith Wilson, Al Vicente, Suzy Nakamura, John Solomon, Grace Lee, Andrew Amondson, Amy Higgins, Kevin Michael Walsh, Jose Solomon, Paul Eiding, Philip Newby, Finneus Egan, Roger Ainslie, Ossie Mair.
Five Point Summary:
1. Oh he just said the title of the film. Oh no you didn’t!
2. He’s not a very nice guy – why’s he making this documentary again?
3. Sob stories for zombies. Not quite sure how to take that.
4. A zombies-only convention in the middle of nowhere? Something strange is afoot.
5. Hmm, a lapse into traditional zombie fare. Shame that.
As previously discussed, I’m quite the zombie movie fan and, as with Harold’s Going Stiff, I usually enjoy those zombie films that do something a bit different with the concept. In this case (which I hurried to watch because it was dropping off Netflix), American Zombie sees a documentary film crew head into a community of zombies living in Los Angeles to document their lifestyle and how they integrate with the living world.
Opening in the genuine style of a low budget documentary, we start with filmmakers Grace Lee and John Solomon argue about how you make a documentary – he’s done some storyboards, which clearly don’t apply to documentary films. Right from the off there’s an imbalance between the two of them – he seems to think she wants the film to be all about her, because she appears in it briefly. He’s clearly got an agenda of his own, and with a lack of any hardcore zombie bloodlust, he’s placed as the antagonist of the film. Asking the tough questions of the zombie interviewees, Solomon (the character, not the actor) clearly has beef with the undead – arguably this is because he’s an investigative reporter but more that he’s just an unlikeable swine.
An interesting idea explored briefly is the concept of relationships between stage two or three zombies and the living. Y’see, in this world there are three types of zombie – your basic, brainless type that has a craving for living flesh; then there are stage two zombies that have a few more cognitive functions; then at the top of the pile are the stage three’s, those who could pass for living if it wasn’t for an obvious wound or slightly blue lips. That does keep the budget down as far as practical effects go, but a lack of the bloodthirsty type of zombie is disappointing. Mixing up some of the interviewees with some stage 1, 2’s and 3’s would have jazzed things up, and setting up different outcomes for all of them would have also helped. It’s as if they’re all different yet exactly the same, it doesn’t exactly make you want to root for any of them, that’s for sure.
For almost the entire run time it maintains the documentary tone, treating the zombie problem as a real world thing and avoiding any sense of looking at the camera with a knowing nudge and a wink. By the final third, ignoring the fact all the characters we’ve seen thus far arbitrarily all go to a zombie convention/festival in the middle of nowhere, it lapses briefly into typical zombie fare (kind of) before the end credits roll. In a way it’s an appropriate ending, but in another sense it spoils the previous 85-odd minutes of establishing the reality of the world. It’s a little bit silly and should’ve perhaps gone in a different direction.
Ultimately it’s clear that there are significant differences between the living and the undead, to the point where they have a lot of the same problems and neuroses as those who still have a pulse, but the mere fact they’re dead and still shuffling around in this mortal sphere is held against them. Beyond that it’s hard to take any significant message from the film, and its lack of any action or real narrative drive holds it back. The documentary style is a good idea, but not enough is made of it. A missed opportunity in just about every sense.
Favourite scene: The zombie convention and discovering that there are other living attendees there.
Silly Moment: The ending. All good will I had towards the film evaporated in that last 10 minute segment.