Directed by Sabu
The role of the zombie in Sabu’s Miss Zombie world is nebulous; for some, they’re used as common household servants. Although frowned upon, it proves to be a cheap source of labor, their services paid for solely with rotten fruit and vegetables. But the nature of the zombie virus, of which there are numerous levels of infection, also results in wild, feral zombies, those inspired directly by the zombie archetype. Even the stark high contrast black and white aesthetic the film is shot in echoes Night of the Living Dead, with one scene involving a car and a dozen plus howling undead trying to force their way in.
But only one scene, because Miss Zombie is not a straightforward horror film. Your traditional zombie takes a backseat to a far more philosophical take on the creature, with Sabu crafting an incredibly slow-paced and often repetitive thriller with an emotional payoff that doesn’t quite make up for everything that comes before it.
Miss Zombie exists in a world where zombies are real, created by a virus that puts them in a nebulous state between alive and dead. There are various stages to the disease, with some zombies being considered more human than others. Their progression is measured in their state of decay, and the consumption of meat turns them into feral creatures. The end result is a form of domestication, and when one (Komatsu Ayaka) shows up at the home of a doctor and his wife, it’s quickly put to work, repetitively scrubbing broken tiles outside his home.
The film plays on this theme of repetition throughout much of the first and second act; death-like silence, punctuated only by the wind and fleeting moments of dialogue fill the bulk of the film to give you a look at the trials associated with being one of the living dead. Her evenings are spent wandering around town, faced with rock-throwing children and knife-wielding thugs who aim to test her limits. While at work at the home, she’s at the whim of two leering co-workers, spurred by a photo of her bent over rear end, taken by the doctor’s young son. However, whether this is intended to highlight the disparity between the disenfranchised and the wealthy, or serve as some sort of commentary on how man is more feral than zombies is diminished by the sheer repetitiveness of it all.
Miss Zombie’s biggest hindrance are thus its incomplete ideas. It is, in part, a revenge film, its serene approach belying the frenetic and ultra-violent aesthetic typically represented in the genre. Eventually the titular character reaches a breaking point, while her growing relationship with the doctor’s son send the film into more familiar territory and culminating in a genuinely gut-wrenching and sad conclusion. Here it becomes a sort of quiet meditation on motherhood, but it’s explored far too late in the film to make any real impact; when it is, it’s never done so beyond the surface. The third act is far more engaging than the preceding two if only because it attempts to try something new, rather than focus solely on snail’s pace character development.
Miss Zombie is a quiet, reflective little film that eschews thrills in favor of drama, but the style over substance approach keeps the film from truly being reconciled with its genuinely interesting subject matter. It’s admirable for its style, though, from its black and white presentation to it almost complete absence of a score; Sabu does enough things to keep it moderately interesting, even if you prefer your zombies to be of the flesh-munching variety. It’s a fresh take on a tired genre, even if all the pieces don’t fall into place.
2 1/2 out of 5