>> Fantastic Fest 2008: Day Eight

Zombie Girl:  The Movie / USA / Directed by Justin Johnson, Aaron Marshall, and Erik Mauck

Synopsis:  This documentary follows Emily Hagins, pre-teen filmmaker, as she sets out to make her first feature film, an ambitious apocalyptic zombie epic called Pathogen.

I’m sort of connected to this documentary, in a tenuous way.  When I first met Emily, and her mother Megan, I was handing out Shaun of the Dead promo merch at an indie video store that I loved, and they happened to be the only two customers there at the time.  She’s wearing the t-shirt that I gave her in this doc, but my connection goes deeper than that.  I was in an Emily Hagins film.  And I would also count Megan and Emily as personal friends.

Can I look at this movie objectively, removed from any personal attachment to the “characters”?  I don’t know.  I don’t beleive that I can.  For me, the film ends up being a semi-prequel to my experiences on the set of The Retelling, a Southern Gothic ghost story that Emily is putting the finishing touches on as of this writing.  In it, I play a sheriff–a small role, but my first feature.  I’ve been under the direction of a new-and-improved Emily; a more confident Emily than the one featured in Zombie Girl.  I can clearly see the mistakes, lessons, and thought processes on the set of Pathogen that led to The Retelling‘s tighter production.

I can also see that the mother/daughter dynamic on the set of Pathogen is still in place.  Megan is still the committed supporter, still a soldier when it comes to producing, and Emily is still testing her own independence, still putting her role as a director as her top priority while on the set, instead of her role as a daughter.  It’s an interesting working dynamic between the two of them, and it’s tough to foresee a future where they are separated, because their relationship goes beyond mother and daughter–they are also best friends and production co-workers, in a sense.  That day will probably come, but Zombie Girl will make a nice memento of a time I’m sure they both hold dear.

I’m not giving this film a number rating due to my connection with the subjects.  I would hate to think anyone would take the number grade as a personal affront, that it would reflect on what I think of the subjects in any way, shape, or form, instead of the film itself.  Zombie Girl as a documentary is, honestly, a little shaggy, but Megan and Emily get a 10 from me.

The Wreck / USA / Directed by James K. Jones

Synopsis:  In the aftermath of a nasty wreck, a pregnant woman and her lover are trapped in their car, stranded in the woods, and toyed with by someone lurking in the forest.

Aaron Lohr just about makes this movie.  He plays the man trapped in the car, and is absolutely terrific, completely selling the movie’s most harrowing moments.  The Wreck is a very simple, low-budget suspense piece, that works more often that not, and makes some creative decisions that are unexpected.  Too often in these kinds of films (like Open Water, for example), a couple will spend a good portion of the running time screaming accusations at each other.  In The Wreck, these people act like people–they bide their time with barely controlled patience and inner terror–showing affection to each other and attempting, at times, to lighten the situation.  I appreciated Jones’s approach to this situation.  It grounded the film in realism, which helps when things get a little shaky towards the end.  A character from the beginning of the film shows up in the last act, but it doesn’t enitrely work because we simply didn’t get enough time with the guy at the beginning of the movie to care like we should.

6.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

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