Super Z had its UK première at FrightFest 2022
If the zombies in Super Z are, as its very title suggests, not quite like the others, then that just places Julien de Volte and Arnaud Tabarly’s feature in a long tradition of zombies who have never stopped changing and evolving. Their ‘classic’ form as slow-shuffling, brain-dead flesh-eating ghouls in George A. Romero’s highly influential Night of the Living Dead (1968) was in fact itself a radical departure from the voodoo slaves of previous horror cinema – and since then we have had fast zombies (first in Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City, 1980, and resurrected in the Noughties) and brain-eating, talking zombies (at least since Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead, 1985). The zombie point-of-view has become ever more centred, with Marc Price’s no-budget Colin (2008) showing a post-apocalyptic world from a zombie’s bewildered perspective, and Eduardo Sánchez’s episode A Ride In The Park from the anthology V/H/S/2 (2013) shooting a zombie’s attacks intradiegetically from a Go-Pro camera attached to his helmet. Meanwhile there has also been a gradual shift from the zombie as othered monster to a more central, even sympathetic figure, from the domesticated Bub of Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985) to the romantic zombie heroine of Brian Yuzna’s Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993), and from Billy Connolly’s underdog manservant in Andrew Currie’s retro Fido (2006) to the quipping, harmless undead buddies of Drew and Brett T. Pierce’s DeadHeads (2011).
Super Z concerns a group of super-zombies – Gertre (Johan Libéreau), Stephana (Julien Courbey), Marcelline (Audrey Gicomini) and Georgette (Florence Bebic-Veruni) – all engineered by a randy mad scientist (Jean-François Gallotte) for a greedy, cocaine-snorting CEO Jacques (Jacques Boudet) who is looking for lucrative military applications. The four violently escape the secret laboratory, and form their own family unit in in a reappropriated cabin in the woods, from which they pick off local hunters and campers for their pot. Yet Gertre, furious at the human race for the way he and his trans wife and children have been treated, plots a broader revolution-cum-revenge against the nearby village, even as Jacques’ hired mercenary (Laurent Bouhnik) hunts the fugitive undead down with a small but well-equipped army. Gertre expands the family with a new son, the recently bitten and zombified Yvon (Fabien Ara) who is falling for local farmer’s daughter Augustine (Marion Mezadorian), and with the still-living if disembodied head of the mercenary’s off-grid cousin (Jo Prestia) who is now serving as the dynasty’s loyal guard dog.
In other words, Super Z plays as a sort of Addams Family or Munsters for escaped, orphaned undead, presenting us with a clan of foul-mouthed, drug-gorging, hard-fucking, blood-sucking freaks who are somehow no more freakish than the humans whose forms and behaviours they parody. For everyone here is concupiscent and carnal, compelled by the lowest of drives to achieve questionable ends. The difficulty that this creates for the filmmakers – and perhaps even more for the viewers – is that no one in the film, zombie or human, comes across as anything but repellent. For they all represent gross, grotesque caricatures that reduce all human conduct to bodily functions and animal instincts. The film does not hide its cartoonish nature. The mercenary keeps referring to the zombies as ‘smurfs’, and while he probably has in mind the bluish tinge to their putrescent flesh, viewers will also notice their irritant, high-pitched voices, as if from a children’s show, even as the zombies engage in the more adult activities of cussing, rutting and graphically eating penises (detached or otherwise).
With their dialogue treated to sound as if it has been recorded backwards, the zombies do embody an inverted image of society, exposing all our worst impulses and appetites. Yet the humour here is as low as the characters, all fart and dick jokes, swearing and salaciousness, with a puerile bent that many will find hard to swallow even in small doses. It is a rotten mess – and the direct evocation of David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) which comes at its romantic/apocalyptic end is ill-earned, and just flags the vast gulf in quality between the two otherwise very different films. Here the message seems to be that a zombified world would be much the same as the one we live in now – a playground of rampant exploitation, hungry greed and cultural carnage. Is that all there is, though?
strap: Julien de Volte and Arnaud Tabarly’s grotesquely cartoonish satire finds a fuck-hungry family of zombies hardly more freakish than humanity
© Anton Bitel