I went in to American Zombie knowing nothing about it, except that it was a mockumentary. If I’m honest, I was anticipating a very quiet, indie film that had big ideas but mediocre execution. How wrong I was. The last thing I was prepared for was to be scared by this story, which left me in a state of confused awe. Perhaps it’s to do with the fact that I’ve been watching so many movies about the living dead of late, but American Zombie really impressed in areas where I thought it would fail.
The film follows real-life filmmaker Grace Lee, and John Solomon, who team up to document the lives of a small and unrecognised zombie community in Los Angeles. They wish to give the “revenants” a voice, and follow them to their homes and work, where they observe their everyday routines and ask them questions about their hobbies and interests. What starts out as a very peace-loving and low-key affair, soon becomes a bit twisted when Lee and Solomon try to gain access to a festival for the undead, set up by zombie rights activist Joel. After being told that there are “no humans allowed”, Solomon begins to suspect that his subjects have something to hide.
The most interesting thing about American Zombie, is its re-imagining of the zombie myth. In the film, its undead community are the victims of a mysterious virus which lies dormant until death, at which point it reanimates the brain and body. When these people “come back”, they have little to no memory of their past lives, and can be placed, depending on their behavior, in to one of three zombie categories: feral, low functionality, or high functionality. The high functionality zombies can easily pass as humans, except for the fact that their bodies are slowly rotting from the inside. They have no appetite for human flesh, and exhibit no undisciplined rage. Some manage to find a job and a place to live, others are forced to walk the streets in a miserable daze.
As a minority that are wrongfully ignored, these zombies, treated with disdain and refused the right to vote and marry, are rightfully angry at their society. As the film goes on, we see the subjects display more and more bitterness, until eventually the film reaches a chilling and bloody climax. The tone is turned suddenly from observational to eerie, as the filmmakers begin to lose the “plot”, and loyalties and sympathies are tested as the zombies establish a stronger, more combative front against their oppressors.
With good acting and understated makeup, American Zombie is an example of the indie zombie movie done right. Believable and sympathetic characters, an engaging atmosphere, and thrilling twists make this a worthwhile watch for any zombie fan who wants a change from messy apocalypse movies.
FINAL VERDICT: ★ ★ ★ ★