In the slums of Lafayette is Kim; a pot-dealer who likes to write poetry and snort painkillers even though he still lives with his father. Kim also enjoys wandering the town as his alternate persona — Shadow Zombie. While walking through the suburbs one night, Kim meets Brandi; a student nurse and part-time clown. These two characters form an unlikely bond but their dark pasts may drive them apart.
As much as we like to talk about unusual, weird, surreal, abstract or bizarre movies, there’s nothing quite as strange as real life. Since movies are often used as a form of escapism, it can be unsettling to have reality thrown back in our collective faces. However, it is that unsettling feeling that also makes movies like “Ape”, “Toad Road”, and “Jonas” compelling because it’s hard, if not impossible, to find that line that separates reality from fiction. “Shadow Zombie” from Jorge Torres-Torres is the latest movie to blur the lines as it effectively creates a haunting movie about two people trying to find their own form of escapism.
Deep in the southern part of Louisiana is Lafayette where amongst the decaying ruins of the city is a collection of misfits. One of those particular misfits is Kim Filth; a guy who still lives with his dad sells as many drugs as he takes. Kim also likes to paint up his face and walk around town as his alternate persona, Shadow Zombie. One night, while dressed as Shadow Zombie, Kim runs into Brandi — a part-time nurse and also a part-time children’s party clown. Kim takes an interest in Brandi and the two soon develop a relationship, but Brandi’s horrifying past and Kim’s lack of a future begins to chip away at their already fragile lives.
As the press-release states, “Shadow Zombie” was shot in documentary-like conditions and it shows. The movie has a tendency to look as if it were composed of the raw footage from a documentary. Even in the moments where editing and a score are present, there’s still that lingering feeling of there being something real in the production. And while there are those cinematic moments peppered throughout the movie — moments featuring bloody, horrific scenes — it’s that feeling of reality that hooks you and keeps you present in the film.
I have to be honest; those documentary like scenes featuring long, drawn-out takes of something as simple as Kim walking down an abandoned road that’s being taken back by nature are boring. Or maybe dull would be a better word. That sounds horribly negative, but as previously said in the review for “Jonas”, there is something that’s captivating in those boring moments. Perhaps because it perfectly captures, no only the real world, but the world of Kim Spell/Shadow Zombie without the need of exaggeration.
Beyond the realism, there lies a deep and personal story that I think most people can relate to. The idea that “Shadow Zombie” acts as anti-escapism is reflected in that personal story since the movie is about two people trying to escape their own bleak lives. Kim creates the persona of Shadow Zombie as a way of dealing with being an outcast — as he put it, he’s always lived in the shadows — and this persona is giving him control through separation that he only found in drugs. That is until he finds Brandi; a young woman who seems to have a better life, but suffers from similar tragedies as Kim. Together they’re able to find a connection that they’ve both needed, or that they think they’ve needed, and it’s also where the movie takes a different path.
In some way, the movie becomes about the deconstruction of relationships and our reliance on trying to find what it is that we want or need through other people. You watch as Kim and Brandi come together but when they do, that’s when things begin to truly unravel — their dependency on another person does more to damage their lives than help. A concept of what we want isn’t always what we need pushes that realistic atmosphere further. It also makes the movie more engaging because the progression goes against how stories like this usually unfold and how it affects the characters in unexpected ways — between Kim and Brandi, who was it that really needed to be saved?
Part of me wants to call “Shadow Zombie” depressing and the other part doesn’t. I didn’t feel depressed after it was over but I did feel…off. I don’t know how else to describe it. So instead I’ll talk about how amazed I was from how invested in the movie I became because what I expected it to be, and what I got out of it, are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Jorge Torres-Torres seemed to effortlessly capture reality in this character piece about an outcast — or outcasts, rather. It’s a movie that feels natural and organic, even though there are small cinematic moments and scenes spread through out the movie. Even when there are actual camera movements, and not just hand-held shots, or grotesque scenes, there’s still this blurred line between reality and movie. “Shadow Zombie” is a minimalist film but highly effective and engaging with an unsettling atmosphere of real life.