American Zombie (2007) 1 brain1 brain1 brainhalf brain

After seeing so many low-budget zombie films where I have to give a recommendation with qualifications, it's a pleasure to be able to unreservedly say that you should watch this film. Director Grace Lee describes it simply as "the girliest zombie film ever," but I found this mockumentary to be an original, well-written, well-acted take on what an America with zombies as part of the general population would be like. Picture the French film Les Revenants but with a sense of humor, and after the zombies have been around for a while. It also reminded me a bit of Joe Dante's Homecoming in that it uses society's reaction to zombies to point out things about ourselves.

John (John Solomon) loves to make horror movies but has never actually finished one. He persuades his friend Grace (Grace Lee, the director), a successful documentary filmmaker, to work on a project with him about zombies in Los Angeles. Reluctantly, she agrees. Horror isn't her bag, but she thinks that there are interesting social angles to be explored. They pick four subjects, Ivan (Austin Basis), a convenience store clerk, Judy (Suzy Nakamura), who sells health food, Lisa (Jane Edith Wilson), an artist, and Joel (Al Vicente), a zombie activist. What makes these zombies interesting is the very human ways in which they deal with being a zombie. Joel fights endlessly for zombie rights. Judy is in complete denial that she's a zombie. Lisa is obsessed with finding out who she was before she died. Ivan just rolls with it.

In this world, someone becomes a zombie if they die a violent death after having been infected by the zombie virus. There are no signs of infection before death, so nobody really knows if they're going to become a zombie after they die. Zombies produce infectious saliva, so the virus can be spread with a zombie bite, but most zombies just want to be part of society (aside from the feral zombies, but the movie doesn't deal much with them). You might be thinking, The zombies aren't attacking people? Boring! But sprinkled throughout the initial interviews, we keep seeing hints that maybe zombies aren't quite as harmless as they seem.

In addition to the four main subjects, the document also covers various people that interact with zombie society: politicians, private investigators, fetishists, and coworkers. Lee put a lot of thought into what a world like this would be like, and it shows in the deft details that she drops into the footage. This is not a gut-muncher, but a thoughtful imagining of a zombie world. For a nice change of pace, this was a very satisfying film.