I'm not sure how many people - non-studio or film festival people, anyway - have seen American Zombie, but I do feel like part of a select few, an insider who has some great dope on a flick almost everyone in the country hasn't heard of. (For the record, I was given a screener DVD to prepare for my interview with director Grace Lee). What is that proverbial great dope? The inside word? The big scoop? American Zombie is a SPECTACULAR film that I truly hope all of you get to see.
The simplest way I can put it is that this film is part any Christopher Guest film, part satire, part horror with a dash of subversive humor and self-deprication all blended and packaged intricately into one superb final product. It's the kind of film that doesn't have a genre. It can't be pegged down into a mockumentary or a satire or a horror or a comedy because each of those parts are done so brilliantly, it's hard to slight any of these aspects by simply giving more weight to just one.
The film starts out as a simple mockumentary - two filmmakers, Grace (writer-director Grace Lee) and John (John Solomon), trying to make a documentary about the population of zombies living in the greater Los Angeles area. Grace wants to make a truthful and respectful film about this unusual population, while John has more of a tabloid sensibility and he wants to know if they're out there feasting on humans like in the movies. They profile a number of different "revenants" (slang for zombie) who all lead different but, for zombies, fairly normal lives. Ivan (Austin Basis) is a young convenience store clerk, Judy (Suzy Nakamura) works for a health-food company and pines for a normal life while secretly being ashamed of being a zombie, Lisa (Jane Edith Wilson) is a florist who specializes in funeral arrangements and desperately wants to know how she died (most zombies never remember) and Joel (Al Vicente) is the leader of the Zombie Activist Group (ZAG) who is constantly fighting for zombie rights.
As we follow these separate lives, we pick up subtleties about this sub-culture and some mysteries as well. At the same time, we also follow Grace and John's (who both play alternate versions of themselves) progress in the production of the film, as well as the constant clashing of Grace's honest pursuit and John's more brash, Inside Edition-style. When Grace and John finally get permmission to film at Live Dead, a huge zombie gathering in which no humans are normally ever allowed, the film takes a drastic, phenomenal and genius turn and by time this film reaches its astonishing conclusion, it is truly something you've never seen before. Honestly, I was staring at my TV with my mouth wide open for a good two minutes as the credits rolled.
There really isn't a weak aspect of this movie at all. The characters are all fleshed out (I couldn't resist) and nicely developed with some fine performances by all, but particularly from Austin Basis, who, from his portrayal of Ivan, could very well end up being the next Jonah Hill. John Solomon is pretty damn good as well as a version of himself and he provides quite a bit of the film's comic relief with his unrelenting search for Romero-like zombies. Some performances aren't as good as others, sure, but they know their characters so well that each performance is great in their own right.
The real star of this show though is co-writer/director Grace Lee, who delivers such a compelling script (with co-writer Rebecca Sonnenshine) and direction here that it's shocking that this is her fictional feature debut (her previous film was the documentary The Grace Lee Project). The effortless way this film glides from genre to genre, with seamless and mind-blowing transitions is really out of this world. She also delivers hilarious dialogue ("Jesus loves zombies. Jesus was the original zombie," from a priest trying to show zombies the path to religion) with twinges of satire on our own American culture and deft direction to the point that you really think she could as easily get a gig in horror or comedy as her next project. I could honestly go on for a whole lot longer, but I don't want to spoil a THING for you.
American Zombie is hands-down the best film I've seen so far this year. It's one of the busiest films I've ever seen, in that it accomplishes so much (humor, drama, horror) in so little time, so amazingly, that it's truly beyond anything I've ever seen. You just simply HAVE to see this for yourself.
This film will open in Los Angeles on March 28 at Laemmle Sunset 5 - 8000 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood at 7:30 PM, with a Q&A session with director Grace Lee to follow the screening. I'll be there to see this spectacular movie on the big screen, and if you're in L.A. on the 28th (or the 29th, same time, same place, same Q&A), you really should be there too.