Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ****
Emily Hagins had been a cinephile since age 7 and at the age of 12 was determined to make the leap to feature-length director with Pathogen, an original zombie film she penned herself. Growing up in Austin, TX, a hotbed for DIY film-making, she has aww-inspiring parents who, with some mild amusement and exhaustive determination to help her succeed, support her creative endeavors.
As with most film-making ventures, the real antagonist in Emily's story, told in the documentary Zombie Girl, is life itself. The bevy of adult mentors who have advised and tutored her along the way are quick to point out not that she presents any great level of innate talent for film-making but that her determination and enthusiasm (and preternatural gift to network) is hard not to cheer for. But emphasizing the need for organization and preparation and the danger of getting caught up in frustrations is a difficult message to convey to film-makers twice Emily's age. As the obstacles begin to pile up (stars being grounded, falling behind on homework and ceaseless technical problems), we see that the greatest barrier to filmmaking may be finding the wherewithall to finish a project at all.
Directors Justin Johnson and Aaron Marshall pay due respect to the spectacle of a 13-year-old girl directing a feature-length zombie film. But once her precociousness is established, Zombie Girl [official site] becomes a much smarter story about the push and pull in mother/daughter relationships as teenagers begin to assert their independence. Viewers are privy to the complicated feelings of pride and despair that can result, especially for the parent of an only child. We see how Emily’s mother’s desire to protect her from painful things can feel villainous. Their inner world becomes so available to us that I found myself growing wistful at Emily’s growth spurt halfway through the film.
The film is bolstered by an energetic set of titles, which update the viewer on the passage of time by using blood-soaked stuffed animals that gaze helplessly at the viewer. The directors also clearly established an excellent rapport with the actors and crew of Emily's film. Many times child subjects in documentaries can have their raw enthusiasm reduced to naive inarticulateness, but even in their brief screentime, each participant comes across as a strong voice in the process.
Some fun DVD extras include: Q&A post-Pathogen debut at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse, extended interview with Emily after completing her second feature The Retelling, behind the scenes featurette from that film, and a Zombie Girl theatrical trailer.
Bookmark/Search this post with: