CAPSULE: This film is badly paced, but has a rewarding last half-hour if the viewer can wait it out. Grace Lee (THE GRACE LEE PROJECT) looks at the lives of zombies living in the Los Angeles area, examining them like any minority community. The film satirizes well-intentioned socially conscious documentaries, examining how zombies have been (or failed to be) integrated into the general population. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
A spoiler comment follows the main review.
In 2005 Grace Lee made a documentary supposedly about the high expectation people had of her because of her name and her Asian family background. In fact the film was more about the difficulties that Asians have assimilating into American culture. Ms. Lee has returned to the problems of the outsider in our society looking at the (hopefully!) fictional community of the Living Dead (of the George Romero variety) who are living among us. As long as the film sticks with that conceit, it has more misses than hits. The zombies have Zombie Pride parades chanting "We're here. We're dead. Get used to it. We're here. We're dead. Get used to it."
Lee is satirizing boring documentaries by exposing us to an hour of tedious documentary. We revisit repeatedly four particular zombies and discover they are mundanely like the supposedly living people we probably know. Judy is a customer service representative. Joel is a political activist and the founder of ZAG, the Zombie Advocacy Group. Lisa is a florist who hopes being in the documentary will help her find out who she was before she died and lost her memory. Ivan clerks in a convenience store. These people are tediously profiled and have little difference from your neighbors. The Dead are the new minority and can be only partially protected by the law.
We see a zombie sweat shop where the Asian owner exploits the zombies who are willing to work longer hours. In fact they work a 24/7 shift. That makes them for their employer preferable even to hiring Mexicans. Christian missionaries feel a special duty to recruit zombies. After all, didn't Jesus return from the dead?
The film finally gets moving a little when the constantly bickering documentary makers take their cameras to a zombies-only outdoor retreat/festival, LIVE DEAD. It is here that zombies can enjoy each other's presence. They drop their affected normality and become themselves. They can sing zombie filk songs, bay at the moon, and do other traditional zombie activities. Just how traditional is what the documentary-makers want to find out. The film picks up markedly when zombies can be candid and be themselves.
Grace Lee wants to take a serious look at what would happen if there really were zombies "living" (if that is the word) among us. Unfortunately, she has a hard time being serious and her idea of society is heavily influenced by what she sees in Los Angeles. If the reader wants a serious look at the affects on society of the dead returning, a better effort was directed by Robin Campillo in the French film LES REVENANTS (a.k.a. THEY CAME BACK).
AMERCIAN ZOMBIE's most interesting touch is an implicit and subversive anti-assimilation message. Some of the film works. Sadly too much does not. This one is a patience tester. But have faith. The film gets better as it goes along. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. Right now AMERICAN ZOMBIE is playing mostly at film festivals. If one wants to see it, the general release is probably months away. News and information on the film can be found at http://www.americanzombiemovie.com/.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0765430/
Spoiler... Spoiler... Spoiler... Spoiler... AMERICAN ZOMBIE has some of the same strengths (or perhaps weaknesss) as Tod Browning's 1932 film FREAKS. That fictional film followed a community of carnival freaks, showing that they were really very normal in spite of their various birth defects. The last minutes of that film totally reversed all we had seen to that point and, indeed, made the deformed characters into monsters with horrifying mystical powers.
Mark R. Leeper email@example.com Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper