Directed by: #MayGrehan
A bewildering mishmash of tones and ideas, Zombie Bro follows a dysfunctional family adjusting to the ghoulish infection of their son, who slowly spreads his plague through the town. In a bizarre mix of family drama, forced comedy, and perhaps the least intense horror ever put to film, Zombie Bro is truly unique. The vision of director, writer, and producer May Grehan is both clear and commendable, even though what is put to screen is ultimately, a total mess.
At the centre of this bafflingly un-macabre tale is our adolescent lead, Francine. She acts as both narrator and protagonist, and is one of the few highlights, bringing a genuine determination, in addition to sweetness and likeability. Though regrettably an audible corpse (and not the kind of the titular antagonist) remains in the final cut, young Grego takes the weight of a deeply unfocused product on her small shoulders, and carries it with an admirable tenacity and warmth. Equally good is Anthony Taufa, the secondary lead, who makes the relationship between father and daughter into the beating heart of this relatively bloodless affair. While his dialogue is at times questionable, with painfully unfunny jokes and dissonant character motivation, Taufa’s natural comedic flair remains obvious and he provides an eminent energy that saves an otherwise dull film from a swift and early grave.
Other performances are average at best. The child actors in particular lack direction and in one scene, dance with a painful discomfort, creating a prom that is laughable at best, and soul destroying-ly awkward at worst. The sparse dance scene also makes the decision to cast Natassija-Belle James as Calissa, even more of a head scratcher. While one might assume that she appears visibly older as a metaphor for Francine’s idolisation of her, her height and older demeanour are openly acknowledged by the parents, which only makes the situation more confusing. As the actor attempts to replicate the manner of a ten-year-old, the performance ultimately provides more horror than the combined gusto of the cast of walking dead.
This regrettably isn’t the only bizarre plot-point in this nonsensical script. Given the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that the entire cast of characters are written as oblivious idiots for the purpose of putting us in the shoes of young Francine. With this exceedingly generous concession in mind, the actions and dialogue of almost every person still remain beyond bonkers, and veers into absurdism in the worst way possible. Everyone is ignorant to the fact that Teddy is very obviously a walking cadaver, and Francine is inexplicably treated with such contempt that you’d think she’d committed a war crime. Her treatment by her father in particular is appallingly unforgivable; locking a young child in a dark room, while playing it for giggles, makes a serious redemption arc a laughable prospect; one of the few laughs in the entire film, in fact.
As the script sits on such shaky ground, it’s perhaps poetic, that the camera is too, literally. An inexcusable number of scenes that should be straightforward to film are done so with an irritating shaking camera that is as distracting as it is annoying. The awful camera work is further compounded by scenes that overstay their welcome, holding the scene for far, far too long, and crafting a film that feels dreadfully protracted at only one hour and fifteen minutes. As with many overambitious projects, had Zombie Bro been a tightly written short, it could’ve been a far more polished product. There is talent here, it’s just stretched thinner than a ghoul’s skin.
Ghoul is the predominant word, as the interpretation of the ‘zombie’ here is dubious. Teddy lacks the rotting skin, sharp teeth, or bloody features of the traditional interpretation, which could be fine, but the alternative is severely lacking. Whether going for comedic effect or horror, it looks equally unbelievably awful. With pale makeup and sunken eyes, Teddy, and later the whole town would likely be mistaken for students after a big night out, before being recognised as an army of the dead. The absolute low point for the effects department comes via a dismembered arm, which must’ve been intended as an ill placed joke. As is, a stuffed arm and hand with Mickey Mouse style proportions and paper-white skin is just too silly to be even slightly believable.
The score is a mixed bag. The music chosen often sounds like it could be ripped from a low budget furniture advert, and it fails to evoke either dread, or lovable family hijinks. There are, however, subtle piano pieces that do work to evoke a pleasant moment of familial connection during the emotional climax, but generally the music does nothing to aid the slowly dying narrative.
Overall, Zombie Bro is an undead dud. Though it commendably tries something fresh by blending horror with family comedy, its core is as rotten as ghoulish flesh. It fails to adhere to its own verisimilitude, making it unbelievable and alienating, and there is little to enjoy, bar the amusing premise and the odd rare joke that sticks the landing. Despite two stand out performances, the bizarre tone, messy script, overlong scenes, and sloppy camera work make Zombie Bro a corpse that should stay underground.