THE UNLOVED DEAD: VOODOO ZOMBIES, Part Five: Zombi Child - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Gordon Hopkins completes his retrospectives on the unloved voodoo zombie genre.
Clairvius Narcisse is the most famous zombie in the world. I am talking about real life (uh, so to speak) zombies, of course, not fictional zombies. He is so famous, in fact, that two movies have been made about his, ahem, life.

Narcisse was a Haitian man who claimed to have been turned into a zombie and forced to work as a slave. It was his story that first inspired Wade Davis to journey to Haiti to prove his theory of the existence of a “zombification” drug. Davis' quest eventually became the book, and later movie, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). The second movie is the more recent Zombi Child (2019).

A French production, Zombi Child tells the story of Mélissa, a refuge from Haiti whose family has connections to Voodoo.

When I first proposed this series to the editors at Warped Factor, Zombi Child was the only one of the films I had not yet seen. It is, quite possibly, the first Voodoo zombie movie made in the “woke” era and I felt obligated to include it.

I wasn't ten minutes into the movie before I regretted that decision.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not suggesting Zombi Child is bad movie, although it certainly is not the outstanding one it should have been. I am self-aware enough to realize that this just isn't “my kind of movie” and as a result, watching it was an ordeal.
Zombi Child cuts back and forth between the story of Narcisse, zombified and working as a slave in the fields of Haiti, and Mélissa's experiences as a student in a French girl's school. The former is far more interesting. Most of the focus is on the latter.

This is where I have to admit, a major problem with this film is the guy watching it. Mélissa is isolated both by being the only black girl in school and the mysterious secrets of her family's past. This movie is overloaded with teenage angst. Your humble reviewer is, not to put too fine a point on it, a man of a certain age (aka: middle age) who hated teenagers even when he was one. I am most definitely not the target audience for a film about teenage schoolgirls debating whether or not the new girl is “cool” or “weird” and worthy of joining their clique. I found myself getting annoyed with characters in exactly the same why I did with the TV show, My So Called Life, 25 years previously. I was a lot younger then and my tolerance for teenage angst has only diminished over time (along with my muscle tone).

There has been a fair amount of praise for Zombi Child, some of it a bit too gushing to be seemly. A lot of that is due to the film's attempt at treating both Voodoo and western colonialism with the thoughtfulness they are due. Even the headlines of those reviews leave little doubt what is driving the praise. NPR's review, for example, was entitled, “When The Real Horror Is Colonialism.” The New York Times review's headline proclaims, “Race, Class and Voodoo.”

I am quick to roll my eyes at those who bellyache that “woke culture,” or “social justice warriors,” or whatever, are ruining popular culture. Zombi Child is an admirable, though not entirely successful, attempt at doing Voodoo zombies with a modern sensibility. Yes, the filmmakers tiptoe through the political minefield, but at least it tries.

This movie does what it sets out to do. Don't turn it on and them complain that it is too “woke.” That's like watching West Side Story and griping about all the singing and dancing.
However, despite good intentions and a serious, artful production, I cannot honestly recommend Zombi Child, at least not to fans of monster movies or zombie movies. Here is the big problem that all those positive reviews leave out. Zombi Child is not a horror movie. It is (oh, the horror!) a French arthouse film. There are long stretches of monotone narration (in French, of course) over visages of severe, unsmiling schoolgirls all dressed alike, sitting in classrooms, listening to tedious philosophical lectures by smug teachers. The asides to the far more interesting and visually stimulating Haiti subplot are too brief to keep the attention of anyone other than fans of pretentious French cinema. I can't help feeling Zombi Child would have been far more successful, both as a zombie movie and as a critique of western colonialism, had it been treated a bit more as an actual horror movie.

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

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