Sunday, September 14, 2008

DC Shorts Film Festival: Zombie Jesus

Zombie Jesus
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.


Lance McCallion said...

Forgive me for my harsh words here, but while I don't think this was the worst film I saw at the festival (I appreciated its campy throw-back credit sequence), it sure wasn't far from the bottom. I do think it's symptomatic of horror as a genre though, since it seems to get away without really trying. It wasn't funny, since the jokes lacked any sort of rhythm or subtlety, it wasn't scary because... well... it's a comedy. And it was about as far away from insightful as it would have you believe with all its jabs at religious zealotry and intolerance.

Yeah, I'll pass.

Benjamin said...

I agree that this was one of the ones I liked least (having seen only one Showcase), which is a shame because I was looking forward to this (love those ZomComs). The idea of it being a "one trick pony" which overstayed its welcome rang pretty true to my reactions.

Ashley Joyce said...

As a zombie enthusiast, I attended Showcase 2 in large part to see Zombie Jesus. What an utter disappointment. I felt like a lot of the scenes were lifted (badly) from Shaun of the Dead, and the acting was abysmal. You're right that the film had the tools to provide an interesting critique of the American evangelical movement, but it just never gained momentum.

Anonymous said...

Typical. A film is made in Canada by Canadians and yet for some unkown reason Americans think it's all about them and their country's situation. Let's get something straight ok? The world contrary to what you may think does not revolve around America.

Also for someone who claims to be a zombie enthusiast I find it really amusing that you seem to have missed the fact that nearly every single zombie gag in Shaun of The Dead is referencing zombie gags from most if not all of the classic zombie flicks. You really mean to tell me that you have never seen the old person injured-turned suprise zombie bit before? Really come on now?

Ashley Joyce said...


I regret not noticing your comment earlier in the year, but late is better than never.

I understand that Zombie Jesus! is a Canadian film. My personal reaction after seeing it, however, was that it was intended to criticize the modern evangelical movement which, whether you choose recognize it or not, evolved and came to power in the United States. The religious right has become more influential in recent years in Canadian politics, but only after decades of a stronghold on American culture wars. There's very little commentary or literature on the evangelical movement that doesn't cite it as a uniquely American phenomenon that has since been popularized in other English-speaking countries.

Obviously Shaun of the Dead references Romero films and other zombie classics. I wouldn't find it funny if I didn't get the jokes. But I don't think that just because two films use the same source material, it's an excuse for taking an unorginal approach to parody, which is what I thought Zombie Jesus! did.

Also, you're bold enough to accuse someone you don't know of being culturally illiterate based on a short blog comment, but not bold enough to sign your name to it? Really, come on now?

Anonymous said...

A solid review, although the film is indeed as pathetic as Pamela Anderson in a tango contest. Too many beats from the surface/chest, not the heart.

Alli B said...

I didn't get to see Zombie Jesus when I went to the Shorts festival, something I was pretty disappointed about. But the trailer gives me the impression that it's one of those things that should never really be spun out into a full-on film, like the fake trailers from Tropic Thunder. Funny idea, as long as you never take it beyond its one-line pitch.

Cecilia C-W said...

I didn't see this film at the festival either. As a trailer, I think it's funny, but I can definitely see how the absurd premise would start to beat you over the head past 51 seconds.

Pamela said...

From the trailer it seems like it could have been a-good-bad-B-movie-type-short but as you said it fails. And, I can see how a zombie enthusiast can get his hopes up, I think the whole zombie-spun has been a little overdone.

Steve Erdman said...

Being a fan of both zombies and jesus, this was right up my alley. I jest, but not having seen the movie, i feel like drew's post really gave me a handle on it.

Anonymous said...

Couple years ago a story in the media how girls in Bayview-Hunter's Point were going into puberty at a progressively younger age, as young as age 7.
A very bad sign::::Early cut-off. It draws the boys attention and they subsequently make sexual mistakes, very similar to what typical people experience nearly a decade later.
When they "turn" people on and start telepathically talking to them with this technology is very similar::The end of their chance. They segment families, convince them "earning" is the way, etc.
I tell people to examine the change between when they were children and after they began to hear. It is the difference between good and evil.
I understand people's confusion:::They literally hear "God" in their head, as opposed to what was taught to them in some church's classroom. But this technology is one of the God's tools, and much like their other tools, clone hosts and prophets, they use them as temptation.
They didn't begin speaking to me until I began working for ownershit group. "You went to work for evil." "And you were punished."
They began talking to these kids long before puberty, long enough for first-born son to become corrupted and throw away his good looks when punished.

The Gods offered a clue about the Italians in the movie "The Matrix":::They casted an Italian as the traitor of the group, the one who betrays them all.
As they did humanity in the 20th century (see "clone hosting").