Mockumentary Mission to Humanize Zombies
Film Review by Kam Williams
A couple of years ago, Grace Lee made a brilliant directorial debut with The Grace Lee Project, a documentary during which she interviewed dozens of Asian-American females who shared her name. The point of that fascinating multiple subject bio-pic was to show that despite certain cultural similarities in how they were raised, each Grace had her own unique personality.
Ms. Lee’s sophomore effort, American Zombie, is not of nearly as much consequence. For this silly mockumentary is based on the proposition that the undead are people, too. The picture is set in Los Angeles where Grace and her faux co-director, John Solomon, do their best to track down zombies to find out who they are, where they come from and why they exist.
The badinage is actually hilarious early on, when we see Grace complaining that “I don’t make monster movies” and “I don’t usually work with other directors.” John gets her back by asking her why she needs to be on camera, teasing, “Nobody wants to see The Grace Lee Project 2.
The film eventually settles down to focus on the day-to-day lives of four functioning, if socially-ostracized ghouls in their struggle to be accepted as normal. There’s Judy (Suzy Nakamura), who says she’s just like everybody else and just wants to get married. Ivan (Austin Basis), on the other hand, is a convenience store clerk who self-publishes a comic book called American Zombie in his free time.
Activist Joel (Al Vincente), meanwhile, runs ZAG, the Zombie Advocacy Group, an organization which seeks a guarantee of every reanimated creature’s right to vote, marry, healthcare, a job and a driver’s license. Relying on a variation of the Act-Up rallying cry, he and his cohorts demand equality with warm-blooded humans by chanting, “We’re here! We’re dead! Get used to it!” Finally, we have Lisa (Jane Edith Wilson) a florist whose specialty is funeral arrangements.
If the idea here was to have fun while delivering a subtle statement about tolerance and discrimination, that aim is achieved by the end of the first hour. Unfortunately, the story starts to drag a bit at that juncture and virtually runs out of steam until the plot belatedly thickens to make a secondary statement, albeit at the 11th hour, shortly before the closing credits roll.
Overall, a cleverly-comedic, high-concept adventure, artfully-executed, and thought-provoking, too. How else can you describe a flick which presumes to answer everything you always wanted to know about Zombies but were afraid to ask while simultaneously suggesting that our fascination with creature features might merely be a reflection of some sick human desire?
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Cinema Libre