Zombi Child

Movie Information

Two equally uninteresting storylines, one in a girls school, one in Haiti 60 years ago, eventually collide in an incoherent finale.
Genre: Fantasy
Director: Bertrand Bonello
Starring: Louise Labeque, Wislanda Louimat, Katiana Milfort
Rated: NR

The only “zombie” in Zombi Child is Clairvius Narcisse, a real Haitian who allegedly escaped from zombified slavery. Narcisse is said to have worked mindlessly in the cane fields of Haiti for as long as 18 years after having been drugged into a faked death and zombielike existence by vodou (aka voodoo) practices.

It’s a potentially fascinating story, but Zombi Child has nothing to add to that bare premise. The film begins in the cane fields in 1962, and checks in with Narcisse in extended segments, wandering languidly in an eternal dusk, but the real focus is the present day at an elite girls high school in France. There, Fanny (Louise Labeque) writes florid letters (heard in voiceover) to her unseen boyfriend and listens to mind-numbing lectures about French history and literature, which are staged in tedious detail.

Fanny also befriends Melissa (Wislanda Louimat), a Haitian girl whose parents were killed in the 2010 earthquake. The duo and three other girls form a clique, and they wander the school at night and talk and have faintly rebellious thoughts. After an hour and a half of switchbacks between spooky Haiti and dullsville Paris, the not-surprising connection between the storylines is revealed, kicking in an absurd and incoherent finale that doesn’t actually resolve anything.

Zombi Child is from acclaimed French writer-director Bertrand Bonello (NocturamaSaint Laurent), who tosses in nods to colonial exploitation, cultural appropriation, the slave trade, racism and other themes, recalling neglected textbooks no one has ever bothered to crack open. But any grand statement Bonello is making can be constructed only in the viewers’ imagination because there’s nothing conclusive or especially observant on the screen.

Instead, we’re stuck with a bunch of underdeveloped, unengaging characters leading unremarkable lives until the sputtering movie just drives everyone off a cliff. If Parasite has taught us anything, it’s that culturally intelligent movies that offer trenchant critiques of society don’t have to be oblique and dull. It’s one lesson the schoolgirls in Zombi Child don’t learn.

Now available to rent via grailmoviehouse.com


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