An interesting thing I found while doing this blog is the patterns that occur when watching movies in succession. I try to take a varied, almost random approach when selecting upcoming films--shuffling between different genres, countries of origin, and decade of release so as not to watch (and you in turn read about) the same kind of film in a row. And yet despite my efforts I find subtle, I guess you could say insidious, themes recurring from one movie to the following one. Case in point: Andrew Parkinson's 1998 effort I, ZOMBIE which eschews the dark-humor "approach" of yesterday's entry ED AND HIS DEAD MOTHER (I say approach because ED kinda eschewed the dark humor as well, even though it was allegedly a comedy) yet retains the dearth of activity at its core.
A British-based production that spanned four years to assemble, the film concerns a young botanist (Giles Aspen) who's bitten by a lesion-infested woman while out collecting samples. Afflicted with horrible seizures if he doesn't consume human flesh, Aspen ostracizes himself from his girlfriend (Ellen Softley) and holes up in a tiny apartment, documenting the progression of his condition on a tape recorder and feeding on unsuspecting victims.
Shot on film with credible performances and a strong if unassuming directorial style, I, ZOMBIE shows the potential to be an introspective, quietly powerful take on the zombie genre; Parkinson capably uses the living dead as a metaphor for loneliness and isolation, cemented with a melancholy acoustic score (also by Parkinson), but Aspen's frequent voice-overs--or scenes of him speaking into his recorder--soon grow monotonous; while it may be consistent with the diary-like style of the narrative, giving Aspen someone to interact with other than his reflection, or having Aspen convey information via expression or action, would've helped considerably in drawing the viewer in. (We do get a little of that near the end, in a marvelous bit as Aspen contemplates his decaying self in the mirror, the soundtrack itself degenerating into white noise.)
Maybe if Aspen's character didn't accept his condition so passively the film wouldn't have grown so inert. He's bitten while exploring the dilapidated structure of an old farmhouse (a scene that's steeped in creepy atmosphere), yet he makes no effort to return to find out more about the woman who attacked him. (One of his man voice-overs explains he dismissed the notion, since he's got enough problems, but I'd imagine knowing more about the person who infected you would take priority over unspecified "research.") And though he tells us repeatedly he hates having to kill for sustenance, his anguish never comes across--despite the film's subtitle, "A Chronicle of Pain," we never get an understanding of that pain, save for a few moments of Aspen writhing on the floor. His spiritual or emotional agony is never really addressed.
Parkinson also takes a relatively bloodless approach to Aspen's feeding. Though I commend him for not wallowing in senseless gore, we usually see Aspen subduing his would-be meals with an ether-soaked rag before cutting to his living room as he dines on a portion of their body, robbing the most dramatic moments of the film of their impact. (Another thing: if you hated killing innocent people, why eat just a little bit of the corpse and dump the remains? If all you need is a tiny bit to quell your craving, why not hack up the body and store them for later? Is it fresh bodies you need, or are you out of Ziploc bags?) Yet when Parkinson attempts a more visceral approach--like adding a couple of gratuitous dream sequences, or a moment in which Aspen "dismembers" himself while masturbating--they come off as cheap and calculated, out of place with the cerebral tone of the picture.
Parkinson deserves credit for attempting to do something different with zombies, revealing the human side of the living dead, but unfortunately watching someone alone in a room talking to themselves as they rot out of existence doesn't make for satisfying viewing. If there was a lesson or message being imparted, that'd be one thing, but the feeling is more that Parkinson let the heart of his narrative go unexamined.