I try to go in blind as much as possible when I watch a movie. Doing this project sometimes requires I read up on a particular film, especially if I'm not sure if it's really a zombie flick, but even then I like to know as little as I can beforehand. Which means that often--more often than I'd like--I find myself with a film that may or may not be a comedy. I hate when this happens, usually because the humor is so faint I can't tell whether or not it's intentional or just a director mishandling his material. Such is the case with Marc Fratto's 2007 feature ZA: ZOMBIES ANONYMOUS, a film so schizophrenic even the filmmakers don't know what it's supposed to be (even IMDB lists it as LAST RITES OF THE DEAD).
There certainly isn't anything humorous about the opening, a harrowing scene of domestic violence that culminates with the murder of a young woman (Gina Ramsden). Despite taking a bullet to the head, Ramsden returns as a zombie (though I don't see how, since her brain was already destroyed) and tries to start a new life among the "mortally challenged," aided by the undead members of Zombies Anonymous.
The problem with ZA is that it can't decide if it's a half-assed horror-comedy, a half-assed girl-power revenge film, or a half-assed metaphor for prejudice. The movie's tone switches literally from scene to scene, and never finds one that works; and though the concept of a support group for the living dead might be somewhat amusing, Fratto never advances his premise beyond the what-if, preferring to mine the comedy of characters puking into wastebaskets. I didn't much care for the faux news footage that sets up the story's backdrop (yes, it's an efficient way to establish a backstory, but I've seen it so many times I'm starting to get sick of it), but what really irritated me was the zombies themselves, conscious beings with the ability to think and reason. (They might be the living dead, Marc, but they ain't zombies.) Of course, if any of the zombies had a modicum of personality I might feel differently, but that's moot now, isn't it?
But by far the worst thing about this movie is its vengeance subplot, as Ramsden gets even with the boyfriend who killed her (Joshua Nelson). Their climactic showdown is such a low-key display of brutality--especially when Nelson pummels her repeatedly--that it can't help but feel ugly and grim, far too realistic a depiction of violence against women to be entertaining and made even worse considering the feeble humor preceding it. (I realize domestic abuse is a vile thing, but if I want to see an accurate dramatization of battered women I'll watch THE BURNING BED.)
One of the most unpleasant viewing experiences I've ever had, ZA: ZOMBIES ANONYMOUS almost had me wishing me for the talent-free preening of WISEGUYS VS. ZOMBIES director Adam Maranovich.