AUGUST 14, 2009
I believe I first heard about Zombie Girl: The Movie in an issue of "Rue Morgue", and I was instantly intrigued. Not content with fooling around with her dad’s camera to make 3-4 minute shorts, like I and countless others began doing around the age of 12, young Emily Hagins actually filmed an ENTIRE zombie movie in her hometown, using friends and family (which is no different than what several grown men and women do, and I have the HMAD reviews to prove it!). Her movie is called Pathogen; Zombie Girl is the damn fine documentary chronicling the production, from the first day of shooting all the way up to the film’s premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse.
What I almost instantly loved about this girl was her ability to admit her faults and not use her lack of resources as a crutch. Continuity errors, bad effects, jarring angle changes... she is refreshingly honest about such things, instead of blaming others or chalking it up to her low budget. I’ve seen plenty of equally low budget/no resource productions, and it’s amazing how often a director (via the commentary track) will watch his mess of a film and not have the stones to point out a single error, instead of marveling how much he was able to accomplish with so little money and unprofessional crew. It’s kind of sad - by the time she was finished post production on the film she was about 14 or 15, the age when you think you’re a genius and everyone else is wrong, but she got up in front of a sold out crowd at the Alamo and told them that it was OK to laugh at things that weren’t supposed to be funny. That’s an ability some filmmakers in their 30s and 40s still don’t possess and probably never will.
Another nice thing is that you can watch her become a filmmaker, without it seeing contrived or edited in a way to make it seem like there is conflict when there is none (a problem that plagued Project Greenlight). She had no film classes or anything as far as I know, she literally decided to make a movie and set off to do so. So at first she forgets to turn the camera on, but by the end she is standing up to her mom on what takes are better and demanding better After Effects work. The movie takes place over two years, so it’s not only an achievement for her, but also the documentary team itself, who probably wanted to shout MOVE! and start editing Pathogen themselves just to speed things along (most of that 2 year period is spent in post).
To me, the most surprising thing about the movie is that it’s the film Undead that inspires her to make a zombie film (why not Brain Dead/Dead Alive, since her hero is Peter Jackson?). Of all the great zombie movies, why that one? And that was at Butt Numb-A-Thon, which means we get Harry Knowles’ perspective on the whole thing, which is fun (even he seems a bit puzzled why Undead would inspire someone). I kept expecting him to have one of his filmmaker friends show up and help her out, but to her credit, it seems she does the entire movie without the help of anyone but her mom in terms of crew.
And as I’ve said before, I tried making a zombie film back in the day, and it fell apart pretty quickly, so for anyone to do one, regardless of their age, automatically gets my respect. The doc clearly shows that she is in over her head more than once or twice, and it would have been easy to give up, but obviously she never did, which is beyond laudable. There’s a heartbreaking scene where she accidentally records over some key footage (and the location wouldn’t let her come back due to some of her extras messing up the bathroom), but she presses on and gets it finished. In fact, the one complaint I have about the doc is that things like this are glossed over - we never know how she managed to reshoot the scenes without the location available to her. There’s also a scene where her failing grades are mentioned, but it’s never brought up again. I would have liked a little more about how this was impacting her family, especially the father, who is MIA for large chunks of the film.
The mother, on the other hand, is in it just as much as Emily. She’s the film’s producer, makeup effects creator, boom mic operator, driver... and primary financier, it seems. There’s a scene later on where Emily is up for a grant, one she ‘doesn’t care’ if she gets or not, as the shooting is complete so money isn’t needed, but of course the mother wouldn’t mind getting back some of the coin she sunk into the film. Scenes like this sort of remind us how immature Emily is (i.e. she doesn’t seem to think that getting a thousand bucks would be helpful), but also helps drive home the point that her mom is pretty goddamn supportive of her daughter and has put in just as much, if not more, time into seeing this thing through. She can be a bit annoying at times (she drew my ire when she called “cut!” during a take - you NEVER say that unless you’re the director!), but any viewer should be just as concerned that the two retain their close bond as they are that the film is complete.
And it is! You can purchase it through her website. I most definitely will be checking out soon (based on what Zombie Girl shows us, it’s probably better than half of the no budget zombie movies I’ve watched, if only for the sight of zombie toddlers). Also, you can watch Zombie Girl for free until August 20th via SnagFilms (the link is embedded below in lieu of a trailer). Not sure the economic feasibility of this - unlike Hulu, it’s not interrupted by ads, so I’m not sure how they make money from doing it. But hey, if they want to legally show us a movie for free, I’m not arguing. And while you’re on the site, I would check out Darkon, which is a terrific doc that I saw a couple years ago, about some LARP guys. Think Trekkies crossed with the last half hour of Role Models. Great stuff.
In closing, I just want to say - why the hell wasn’t there a budding horror filmmaker girl in my 6th or 7th grade class? I couldn’t even get the girls in my class to watch a goddamn Chucky movie. Weak.
What say you?