There are elements of coming-of-age drama, tortured romance, and supernatural horror, though part of the film’s strange power is that it never seems to commit to any of those genres, hovering in some liminal state instead, teasing the audience with the various possibilities of where it might go.
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If Zombi Child gets snared in a web of symbols and ideas that it never fully manages to weaponize in its favor...it still provides a bold and compelling bridge between the living and the dead.
The trappings of the boarding school, with its grand staircases, centuries-old cloisters, and self-serious teenage secrecy, are gothic. But Bonello nods just as much to American teen-anxiety horror. There is even an homage to Brian De Palma’s "Carrie."
Zombi Child is the rare film that’s both rich in ideas and fun, a reckoning with forces colonial powers would like buried, but that won’t stay dead.
Mixing political commentary, ethnography, teenage melodrama and genre horror, the film is an unashamedly cerebral study of multiple themes – colonialism, revolution, liberalism, racial difference and female desire - with its unconventional narrative structure taking us on a journey that’s as intellectually demanding as it is compelling.
The result feels like two incomplete movies in one, neither of them fully satisfying in the end. Still, there are some graceful moments scattered throughout, especially in the Haitian sequences, while it’s also rather refreshing to see a brand new take on a subject that’s been worked to death elsewhere.
Zombi Child is a stirring and highly peculiar piece of work.
Zombi Child is the kind of lithe and lucid dream that gets its tendrils round your brain stem, so that when all hell finally breaks loose, you can’t jolt yourself awake from its grip.
It’s an utterly immersive Franco-Haitian gumbo, complete with flashbacks, “magic” as practiced by those who know “the old ways,” teen hormones and the zombi origin story.
Bertrand Bonello’s quixotic, slow-burn genre film is political largely in the abstract.