Directed by Steve Miller, 2008, 13 minutes
DC Shorts Film Festival Showcase 2
If you name a movie Zombie Jesus, your film likely has announced its intentions immediately. It certainly doesn't scream subtlety, nor induce hopes of deeply metaphorical cinema. But it does succeed in setting a tone for a film, which is always a good first step for a short barely over twelve minutes long, and from the first sight of the title card, which owes a lot to the sci-fi B-movies of the 1950s, there's no moment that comes unexpectedly.
The plot of the film follows Mary (you might recognize this name from such publications as the Bible) coming home to reconnect with her Priest father, whom the audience is aware from the opening scene is now a zombie, courtesy of Zombie Jesus. Unaware of this, Mary travels to her small Canadian town, where she runs over an elderly woman. In a joke eerily similar to one in Shaun of the Dead (truthfully, more of an antecedent than the aforementioned Eisenhower-era sci-fi flicks), Mary tries to help the senior citizen up, but to the shock of few, the old lady is actually a zombie. Luckily, Mary is saved by Isaac, who is described as the town's lone Jew (his parents have become Jews for Jesus/zombies), and he takes her back to his place to describe the situation in greater detail. Here, the film's methodology is explained, a scene found in any competent horror film, where the origin of Zombie Jesus is explicated. Now everyone knows that Jesus was crucified and came back three days later; what this movie presupposes is: "maybe he came back as a zombie." Deciding to take back the town from the undead, Mary and Isaac set off, crossbow and hammer in tow, to the town's church. There, they come to blows with brain-seeking churchgoers, and handle them with ease, before Zombie Jesus appears, in all of his holy evil glory. All of the townspeople transform back into humans, and Mary reconciles with her father. But after the denouement, Mary, back in her Toronto apartment takes a pregnancy test, and her worst fears are confirmed by testing positively for a cross, insinuating that the spawn of Zombie Jesus is in her stomach.
My first response to the film was "well, that was aimed directly at the heart(lands) of America." The rise of the Religious Right in the US has been one of the major social issues of the past decade, something that has troubled most liberals, mostly for the mob thinking inherent to the group. While a few films come to mind that touch on this issue (Jesus Camp), there's a surprising lack of material relating to this shift in religious/political climate, especially from US filmmakers. So when we, as Americans, can't look in the mirror long enough to find our flaws, the responsibility falls on our neighbors to the north. A Canadian production, the film avoids overt political reference to the Christian Right in the US, but instead makes a comment on the similar religious conservatism movement that has been growing in Canada since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006. However, the metaphor at the center of the movie applies to any number of countries that have a vocal minority of conservative Christians. And that message is, of course, that faith is great, but blind faith turns you into a zombie, devoid of the ability to discuss your beliefs, only intent on changing those different into someone just like yourself, even if it takes a nibble on the cranium. The solution to the conservative Christian crisis is to believe again and not to follow everyone else, or at least that's the end result of the film's critique.
But what happens when a critique is flat and one-dimensional, instead of being multi-layered? Is there any actual new light shed on the state of America and the Religious Right? The film vaguely touches on Christian imagery (the crucifixion during the climax, the immaculate conception twist), but it becomes swept up in parodying horror films halfway through the film. Campy lines, gruesome action sequences, and a severe lack of time focused on the monstrosity that is Zombie Jesus leads to the viewer being somewhat perplexed by the non sequitur conclusion. Maybe it's because there's already been literature about Zombie Jesus before, but the film seems like it should be much more original and creative than it is. In the end, it aims for metaphorical filmmaking and entertains for moments here and there, but it instead falls into the trap of being a one-trick pony, where one joke that wasn't too funny to start with overextends its welcome by ten minutes, and forgets the punchline anyways.