Sunday, September 07, 2008

American Zombie -- Review

As far as horror movies go, I have this theory that the sexual undertones of vampire films naturally intrigue young people, whereas adults tend to prefer the underlying theme of mortality that zombie pictures offer. (That, and the fact that most of us could probably beat zombies at Jeopardy!)

This is just a theory, mind you -- one which could very well be incorrect. Truthfully, I have no idea what to expect from a zombie movie these days. I certainly don't want to be scared, because, let's face it, ZOMBIES ARE SYMBOLIC. Zombies help us reflect on today's society. Zombies are the new millenial Aesop. Zombie films, as a mattter of natural selection, have become morality tales.

Which is cool and all, but what I want from a zombie movie -- besides a sex scene of undead coitus and Thomas Jane as Jonah Hex -- is enjoyment in the face of symbolism. George Romero is* of course the godfather of zombie cinema, but he may be guilty of going back to the well so much that he influenced a generation of acolytes who believe that a zombie movie can make any statement about modern society, be it consumerism, militarism, and so on. Zombies have become a cliche, an easy way to comment upon North American society.

Honestly, I'm fed up. I'm sick of zombies. Why can't we give werewolves some more play, huh? There's a lot of untapped thematic resources right there: aggression, rage, body hair...

Maybe I'm too smart for my own good, but when I watch a movie like Grace Lee's American Zombie I can't help but cringe when seemingly undead people are revealed to be, in fact, human. It's a cheap statement -- one which has been beaten into the ground so much that groundwater has flooded terra firma.

Thankfully, Zombie is light on the covert sermonizing and heavy on the laughs, however sublimely subdued. Which isn't to say that the film doesn't try to get a message across. It does, but it's more meta than sociological. Get rid of the zombies and it's clear that Grace Lee is trying to address the nature of documentary filmmaking and, ultimately, the invasion of personal space.

She doesn't quite achieve the latter, but she gets close enough. Which is forgiveable for a film that meshes mockumentary, metafiction, horror, and, to a much lesser extent, social commentary all into one with zombies as its sleight of hand. And the performances by every single actor -- save Ms. Lee, who has onscreen presence but acts wooden and, especially near the film's end, looks like she's trying not to laugh -- make American Zombie a film that will reward viewers upon second, third, or fourth viewings; particularly for the "void" and refrigerator-peeping gags, as well as Suzy Nakamura's Best Supporting Actress Oscar-worthy role** as Judy.

4/4 *_*

* was?

** I'm not kidding, Nakamura steals the movie.

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