Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Zombillénium – review

Directors: Arthur de Pins & Alexis Ducord

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Based on a graphic novel series by Arthur de Pins, this French animation tore me slightly – I recognised the fact that it was limited in character development and didn’t seem to know whether it wanted to be aimed at families or adults (some of the industrial aspects probably would go over a child’s head for instance) but at the same time I rather enjoyed it for what it was.

It certainly made me want to read the graphics – but I also get the feeling that they will make the film somewhat disappointing, just from the blurbs they seem more involved. However, having not read them as I write this, I am looking at the film without the distraction of prior knowledge.

Lucy with Hector
The film starts with Hector driving a car with his daughter Lucy. Hector’s wife had died and he is taking Lucy to her boarding school – where she stays over the week whilst he works. She sees a billboard for theme park Zombillénium and asks whether she can go to it – when Hector gets a work call. It is from a colleague saying that the workers at a factory they are going to demolish are protesting. Hector is a safety inspector and says the factory isn’t up to spec and it has to go – he drops Lucy off mid-call, agreeing the trip to Zombillénium.

arrive at the park
As he drives off, a skateboard blur that seems to fly swoops past the car and he crashes (later we discover that this is Gretchen, a witch and intern at Zombillénium, who has a skateboard attached to her broomstick). A shaken Hector goes to a café and is told that she’ll be from Zombillénium and decides to launch a surprise safety inspection and heads to the park where he is met by park manager Francis Von Bloodt. Hector manages to sneak off, takes an employee elevator and finds a hidden floor button – the elevator takes him to Hell.

So, the background was actually given during this sequence and over the credits. The site was a mine years before and the miners actually broke through to Hell and were killed and zombified for their trouble. The park was later built over the site and is staffed by monsters. We later discover that Francis convinced Satan to back his plan for an Earth based business where monsters could live – but promised a financial investment return and the park is struggling. However, in the here and now he has to take care of the human who has stumbled onto the secret.

a low-rent Hellboy?
We see Lucy at a cemetery – her father is dead and she has to remain (as an orphan) at the school. Hector, meanwhile, awakens. As well as being bitten by Francis – a vampire – he has been bitten by a werewolf and they wait to see what he’ll become. Unfortunately he seems to be an ordinary zombie and is put to work on the cotton candy stall. As the film moves on, he morphs more and more into a demon – there is no explanation of how this occurs but let’s just go with it (and enjoy the Hellboy comment).

Steven sparkles
He quickly discovers there is a hierarchy at the park – with zombies at the bottom end and the vampires lording it over them – Victor alone is open to monster equality, the other vampires, including main vampire Steven, are not. Steven is drawn with a “Cullen” look and actually sparkles at times, whilst all the other vampires (bar Francis) are goths and emos. We also discover that vampires invented the garlic myth and can turn into bats. Steven entertains people on the Ferris wheel as a heartthrob but the scary side of the park is struggling. Hector, of course, turns that around as well as befriending skeleton union leader Sirius. However when humans come to invest in the park, Steven hatches a plot to take over, make it a romantic vampire theme for the whole park and get rid of the lower class workers.

It is that industrial aspect that kids just aren’t going to get – worker exploitation, in line with the Marxist depiction of “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks”. Venture capitalists undermining the things they touch, spoiling the artistic concept, and rejecting the workers (sending them into Hell to push *the* wheel in endless exploitative torment). At this point, as an aside, can I mention Cerberus guarding the damned souls on the wheel depicted as having one of the three dogs heads as a yappy dog was genius. Beyond the aside, there was an interesting political/economic allegory going on that just didn’t feel comfortable with its place in a family animation.

explaining the garlic myth 
The same allegory saw the clash between scary monsters and romantic monsters and the conclusion (spoiler, but obvious) that the punters actually want scary monsters even though they seem to have fallen for a romantic vampire narrative. The film didn’t build the primary characters enough, however, whether this was family entertainment or more adult. I liked the animation style but, in keeping with the family side, it was fairly bloodless (making the scary monster vs sanitised/romantic side ironic in many respects). The theme of child abuse (the teacher is outright abusive to Lucy and locks kids in cupboards generally) is never satisfactorily resolved. On that adult/family dichotomy, having Satan actively involved (we don’t see him, but see his shadow, hear him and see fire belch out of monitors/phones when he calls) was a brave move but one that further obscured who the vehicle’s target audience was.

Gretchen using her powers
All that said, I did enjoy this for what it was; I do want to try out the graphic novels at some point and suspect that they will gear more towards adult audiences and build characters (and play with the political economic themes) that much more. My enjoyment of the film makes me want to give it 6 out of 10 but suspect its generous.

The imdb page is here.

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon US

No comments: