ZA: Zombies Anonymous (2006)
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ZA: Zombies Anonymous (aka Last Rites of the Dead) starts normally enough: some sort of virus is causing the newly dead to return to life. However there's a big difference in this movie: the zombies aren't brainless monsters, they retain all their mental and physical faculties. They simply have rotting flesh and an increased appetite for raw meat.
The story centres around Angela (Gina Ramsden) and her low-life boyfriend Josh (Joshua Nelson). Soon after the outbreak begins a jealous Josh shoots Angela in the head, turning her into one of the walking dead. Angela then tries to continue a normal "life" and joins a support group for the mortally challenged. Josh meanwhile gets involved with a gang who consider all undead to be vermin and want to wage war on them, exterminating them all. The stage is clearly set for a dramatic reunion between the two.
The zombie movie genre has always been home to social observation and allegory. George A Romero's films have been shuffling slowly towards making explicit the idea that "zombies are people too". ZA charges right to the finish line. It's clearly about intolerance and social division. The "zombies" could just as easily be blacks, gays, AIDS victims, immigrants or Muslims.
Of course it's not just the street gangs responsible for the hatred. One distinctly unsubtle scene has a politician stating "They must be stopped now whilst their numbers are low and their unity is weak... a final solution is necessary". Inclusion of US flags in a number of shots is bound to upset some people, especially those on the right wing of American politics.
Zombies Anonymous is a film about people hating people; that fact that some of the people are alive and some are dead is almost secondary. One of the most moving scenes for me was a zombie begging for mercy. Yes, this is a film that makes you feel sympathy with the zombies - more so than with Josh and his crew. Hence the alternative title with the pun on the word "rights".
But it's not as simple as poor zombies being oppressed by the evil living. There is also a zombie group who want the undead to be proud of who they are, embrace their cultural heritage and rip the flesh from living humans. Both sides hate each other, both sides are part of the problem. Both sides would be labelled as terrorists by the other.
It has to be said that ZA is a low budget movie and it shows. However the acting is superior to most such efforts. Fratto's script is smart and well paced, his direction feels more like a fly on the wall documentary than an action movie. Which actually works well. The ending is a little confused, apparently some scenes were cut from the DVD release, but the basic ideas remain.
ZA is not a subtle film. It's intense, nasty and difficult to watch. It won't be to everyone's taste but if you can stomach the physical and emotional violence then it's an indie masterpiece which is even more relevant now than when it was made.