Trieste 2017 Review: In ZOMBILLENIUM, the Working Dead Have a Bone to Pick with Classism
Corporate culture meets family adventure in an ambitious attempt to redress social wrongs.
Who would’ve guessed that even in death it’s no easy feat to find reprieve from social strictures? Or maybe it just depends on where you end up kicking the bucket.
As Hector, a coldhearted safety inspector, will soon find out there are some places, like a Halloween theme park built over the mouth of hell, that you’re better off not giving a negative review. Stumbling upon an off-limits site he mistakes for a sweatshop with illegal immigrants (in reality: zombies being exploited in the bowels of hell) business manager Francis Von Bloodt is forced to transform Hector into one of the park’s own, which leaves Hector’s daughter Lucie ostensibly without a father and at the mercy of her cruel boarding school teacher.
Who exactly are ‘the park’s own’, you ask? Well, mostly a motley assortment of vampires, werewolves, mummies and other supernatural entities who have come to call Zombillenium their home. Built by the ghosts of dead miners on the site of their unfortunate demise, all specters and ghouls are in the service of Satan himself. In exchange for free labor and the promise of park profitability, most of the deceased workforce are afforded the luxury of simply being themselves while spending their days trying to scare the bejeezus out of human patrons (and failing miserably).
Hector has to acquaint himself with his new mode of life and is taken under the tutelage of both Sirius Jefferson, a skeletal union rep, and Gretchen, who’s completing an internship in the park to become a full-fledged witch. If his bias against the park’s “Mardi Gras freaks” prompted the unannounced inspection of the property Hector now finds himself on the receiving end of similar jeers.
Highly unwelcomed by the living, he soon finds that Zombillenium’s residents are also prone to infighting. Class hierarchy delineates a pecking order in which vampires make up the elite echelon with zombies and the like being thought off as blue collar riff raff meant for round the clock toil.
Lothario-like Steven, a glib vampire remnant from the Twilight-verse, whose appearances are mocked by the presence of auto-tuned beats, is the attraction that keeps Zombillenium afloat. With ticket sales on a downward slope and the devil pushing for results, Steven stages a corporate coup that will put his blood-sucking kin in charge and allow him to banish all ‘lesser’ demons to the brim- and grindstone below.
It’s up to Hector, a crossbreed with various strands of monster DNA coursing through his veins, to turn things around by unionizing the workers or leading their revolution before Steven’s plan goes in effect. The economic success of the park is also his only chance of being reunited with Lucie.
For a 75-minute animation feature, Zombillenium is quite plot-heavy. Fortunately, this adaptation of a series of graphic novels by Arthur de Pins, who co-writes and directs his creation together with Alexis Ducord, possesses a sense of pace that’s mostly on point.
Still, while few scenes drag, the lack of broad comedy and heartfelt laughs coupled with themes of workers’ strife and class discrimination make it hard to pinpoint the target audience of Zombillenium. Some of its execution is also too heavy-handed for adults. Gretchen’s and Hector’s moment of musical togetherness in an emo vampire club could certainly have done without the lyrics “everybody stand as one, we don’t care where you come from”.
The computer animation (a blend of 2 and 3D) is distinct enough to catch one’s attention but lacks the hyper-detailed polish of a Pixar production while also not benefitting from the warmth and humanity of, say, Studio Ghibli’s hand-drawn gems. Of course, an approximation of the latter style is hardly the point and this aesthetically pleasing gothic fantasy is not without appropriately grim visual gags (such as the sight of a headless ghost fanning herself) but the overall coolness of the look doesn’t contribute to any of the characters’ likability. Action-oriented set-pieces are few and far between (much like big laughs) but a wild pursuit featuring shotgun blasts, witchcraft and an aerial escape on Gretchen’s skateboard-broom provides welcome thrills early on.
Zombillenium’s ride is odd enough to try out but lacks the loops, speed and overall sense of excitement to warrant repeat visits.