Appellate Judge Tom Becker was ready to take it easy, baby, and make it last all night, until he realized that she was an American Zombie.
We're here. We're dead. Get used to it.
In LA, the Revenant population is on the rise—"Revenants" being high-functioning zombies. Other than their pallid complexions and the occasional problems of rotting flesh, Revenants are not so much different from their non-undead counterparts. They really just want the chance to be accepted as members of American society.
John Solomon has gotten to know one Revenant—Ivan (Austin Basis), a late-night convenience store clerk who also prints up his own monthly zombie 'zine. John thinks the whole "new zombie" thing would be a great subject for a documentary, and if he'd finished his film school project and become a filmmaker, he'd love to do this story. But, John has trouble getting things done, so he enlists the help of his friend, Grace Lee, who did finish her film school project and has gone on to become an award-winning documentarian.
From the start, John and Grace clash. Her work often focuses on the nature of identity, and she's interested in taking a serious look at this new class of citizens. Everything John knows about zombies he learned watching horror movies, and he's snooping around their refrigerators trying to find proof that they eat human flesh.
Of course, the zombies they get to know are nothing like the mindless carnivores—or "feral zombies"—John's seen in movies. These zombies can communicate, hold jobs, and in many ways, are just like human. Of course, being zombies, they have more than a few societal strikes against them. They can't vote, for instance, and no one will issue them credit cards.
Joel (pronounced "Hoo-All") is an activist, and he runs Zombie Advocacy Group (ZAG), a storefront not-for-profit organization that's looking to change the way zombies are treated and perceived. It's hard being an activist, and since zombies don't sleep, Joel is at it 24/7.
Unlike Joel and Ivan, Lisa (Jane Edith Wilson) and Judy (Suzy Nakamura) are having some problems adjusting to life as the nonliving. Lisa's a floral arranger and string artist, and she's obsessed with finding out about her pre-death life. All she knows is that, like all zombies, she met a violent end. Judy just wants a normal life. She doesn't associate with other zombies, and she tries hard to "pass" for human.
The biggest zombie event of the year is Live Dead, a three-day festival (think Burning Man or Lilith Fair) that is off-limits to humans; however, Grace and John wrangle permission to shoot there. What better way to end their documentary than with this display of zombie solidarity, and art, music, and merrymaking?
Unfortunately, something else happens at Live Dead, something strange and sinister.
And afterward, everything seems to change.
American Zombie is a funny and original faux documentary that works as a social satire as well as a send up of the horror subgenre made famous by George Romero.
Lee and co-writer Rebecca Sonnenshine give us all manner of zombie lore—some borrowed from other films, some invented for this one—and "back it up" with testimony from various experts, including researchers, historians, and an analyst the California College of Science's Center for the Study of the Living Deceased, who is trying to get funding for a zombie census, the Greater Los Angeles Revenant Count (GLARC).
Along the way, we learn that zombies are the next wave of emerging artists (though most of their work resembles a void), that there are zombie groupies (the sex is lousy, but the foreplay is great), and that many zombies seek comfort through religion (according to a minister, "Jesus was the original zombie").
Lee gets terrifically natural performances from her cast. If I didn't know there was a script, I'd have thought this was one big (and very successful) improvisation. The characters are fully formed with honest and recognizable quirks; they make American Zombie resemble an early Errol Morris film such as Gates of Heaven more than a Christopher Guest mockumentary.
Cinema Libre gives us a nice edition. The film has an appropriately low-budget look and feel to it. The stereo track is fine, though subtitles would have been nice, particularly since there are two commentary tracks, one with Lee and Sonnenshine, the other with Lee and the zombie actors. A "Making of" featurette is entertaining, though not exceptional.
Original and funny, American Zombie is a superior entry in the flourishing field of faux documentaries. Well worth seeking out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Libre
• Commentary with Grace Lee and Rebecca Sonnenshine
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