AMERICAN ZOMBIE Review. [Netflix Watch Instantly]

Posted by Brian Knowles - October 19th 2009 @ 3:36 pm

Directed by Grace Lee, 2007
Written by Grace Lee, Rebecca Sonnenshine

Mockumentaries as anything other than comedy are damn near impossible to get right. A self-serious mockumentary, as with a horror movie without scares, is a recipe for disaster. Alas, AMERICAN ZOMBIE avoids failure on an epic level (something another recent zombiementary, THE ZOMBIE DIARIES cannot claim), but it is too worried about appearing realistic and legitimate to actually entertain. One of most appealing aspects of documentaries is experiencing that which would be unbelievable if it wasn’t true. If a “documentary” is inherently fictional and it doesn’t appeal on a visceral level, the question is begged: What is the point?

I think the “point” is that it’s easier to make a mockumentary than a traditional narrative film. Or at least it’s easier to make it professional-looking. And that is certainly one of AMERICAN ZOMBIE’S strong suits – it looks and sounds like a real documentary. The acting is solid, the cinematography is very documentary-like, and the zombie-infected world it creates is relatively believable. As a genuine documentary it may have been informative and enlightening. As a mockumentary it’s completely and utterly boring.

The world that serves as the setting of AMERICAN ZOMBIE is sort of a cousin to DISTRICT 9 – zombies live among us and they are widely discriminated against. The zombies haven’t been rounded up to live in detention camps in Grace Lee’s film, though I can’t imagine why not, as zombies have been known to be pretty dangerous. The prejudices portrayed here are a little more understandable than in D9, especially considering zombies are human-eating undead as opposed to seemingly harmless aliens. Regardless, it is clear the filmmakers’ intent is for their film to serve as a metaphor for the plight of immigrants and/or minorities. An admirable goal sure, but the execution lacks both subtlety and insight.

The film profiles a pro-zombie special interest group, a zombie-led grassroots movement, and a couple non-politicized everyday zombies. It is explained there are three types of zombies (or revenants as they are sometime called): feral, partially functioning, and fully functioning. Apparently they are not afforded protection under human laws and many are exploited and serve as slave laborers. To make matters worse, their bodies are slowly decomposing and nobody knows how long they have to continue non-living. It’s all very serious. It’s all very dry and boring.

One of the featured zombies, played by Austin Basis, is quite likeable and his scenes almost serve to balance out the exercise in tedium that is every other scene. Almost, but not quite. AMERICAN ZOMBIE isn’t as much a horror movie as it is a public service announcement. It’s a sermon without a hook.  It’s a fake documentary.

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  1. October 22nd, 2009 | 5:35 pm | #1

    Bummer! I have this in my Netflix queue – I thought it looked fairly promising, but I didn’t know anyone who’d seen it. Of course, I’m the only person on the planet who actually liked The Happening (does that wreck my street cred?), so maybe I’ll love it. I’ll give it a try this weekend.
    Thanks for the review!

  2. October 23rd, 2009 | 7:03 am | #2

    Yeah, give it a shot. Like I said, it isn’t poorly made, necessarily. But it is super duper boring, IMO.

    Let me know if you find something in it that I didn’t.

  3. October 23rd, 2009 | 4:10 pm | #3

    That pretty much sums up how I felt about the book World War Z – not badly written, just boring.
    And nothing about zombies should ever be boring!!

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