“What I like about this idea is that my zombi [is not] like other zombis—dead people who come back from hell,” writer-director-composer Bertrand Bonello told Filmmaker magazine about his sleek, dense, even experimental outburst “Zombi Child.” “No, here it is someone who finds himself between life and death. Between night and day.”
The eighth feature by self-described “French white guy” Bonello boldly clashes two time periods—a Haitian myth of a figure returning to life and a latter-day French all-girls boarding school where a family secret told by a Haitian girl introduces voodoo into their life—to audacious, fevered effect.
It’s a rash of themes and content, but hardly scattershot, and gothic, to be sure, perhaps more cautious than it could have been, given the temper of the filmmaker’s work like his terrorist-taken “Nocturama.” Much of the sensual impact of Bonello’s work is steeped in the choice of songs and his own scores—his movies are psychic states but also sonic slipstreams. He surely asks himself: all right now, what does this sound like? Anachronistic song placement—rap, R&B, Papa Legba, Gerry & The Pacemakers—adds to the insinuating atmosphere. (There is a musical number that—well, it’s great.) The interleaved chapters clash: colonialism is inevitably of moment, privilege is displayed, but is it critiqued? The dream is poised: even with its genre-fulfilling yet terrific ending, “Zombi Child” is inconclusive, and richer for that. 103m. (Ray Pride)
“Zombi Child” opens Friday, January 24 at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.