Just as Bertand Bonello’s last film, Nocturama, split its viewers down ideological lines, so too will Zombi Child divide audiences. Unfortunately, this time out, the difference will be between the people who fell asleep during it and those who had the strength of will to tough it out. Though there are some important ideas touched upon here, as well as plentiful style with which said themes are presented, Zombi Child is so appallingly paced that it sinks into frustration long before the credits roll.
Flitting between a prestigious high school in modern France and a plantation in ‘60s Haiti, Zombi Child follows, in the present, a literary sorority getting drawn into the voodoo traditions of their newest member. Meanwhile, back in Haiti, a man is brought back to life as a zombie to slave away in the fields, before slowly regaining his sense of self.
Instead of tying these plots together satisfactorily, Bonello instead just lets one weaken the other. As soon as one excruciatingly slow story strand starts making progress, we’re thrust back to the parallel plot, setting the excitement and investment meter back to zero. Even the finale, which is genuinely disconcerting and pushes the theme of the damages done by cultural appropriation to original, unsettling places, suffers from this lack of focus, cut short by yet another excursion.
Prior to this climactic moment, it’s Bonello’s (excellent) score that does all the heavy lifting in terms of actually making Zombi Child feel like the horror film its title implies.
The music is a highlight of the film, as are Bonello’s crisp yet off-kilter visuals, the boarding school in particular just surreal enough that you buy the supernatural stuff that occurs. Yet, it’s all in service of a repetitive and confusing story that feels much, much longer than it is.
CAST: Louise Labeque, Wislanda Louimat, Katiana Milfort, Mackenson Bijou
DIRECTOR: Bertrand Bonello
WRITER: Bertrand Bonello
SYNOPSIS: Haiti, 1962. A man is brought back from the dead to work in the hell of sugar cane plantations. 55 years later, a Haitian teenager tells her friends her family secret – not suspecting that it will push one of them to commit the irreparable.