Starring Keegan Connor Tracy, Jett Klyne, Sean Rogerson
Written by Brandon Christensen, Colin Minihan
Directed by Brandon Christensen
I didn’t have an imaginary friend as a child, but I was convinced that a monster lived under my bed. Horror movies that are relatable in some way usually have the biggest impact on me and that is why I found writer/director Brandon Christensen’s new film Z to be so fascinating and utterly terrifying. I’m also a parent, and much like Christensen’s first feature film, Still/Born, which deals with a new mother trying to figure out if she’s possessed by a demonic entity or experiencing postpartum psychosis, Z is a story about the difficulties of parenthood, both real and imagined. Z is currently available to watch on AMC Networks’ premium streaming service Shudder.
Z was written by Brandon Christensen and Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters, It Stains the Sands Red) and the pair also wrote Christensen’s first film Still/Born together. Christensen effectively draws inspiration for the story from his own experiences as a parent and the result is as compelling as it is horrifying. In addition to the fears surrounding parenthood, the film also explores themes of mental illness and repressed memories. You can read my interview with Brandon Christensen where we discuss Z here.
Z stars Keegan Connor Tracy (Bates Motel) as Elizabeth Parsons, whose eight-year-old son Joshua, played by Jett Klyne (The Boy), begins exhibiting increasingly disturbing behavior, which he blames on his new imaginary friend named Z. In fact, Joshua’s behavior is so scary that he is suspended from school and his friends refuse to play with him anymore. When Elizabeth and her husband Kevin, played by Sean Rogerson (Grave Encounters) confront their son, he becomes aggressive and even violent at times. Joshua insists that Elizabeth set a place at the dinner table every night for Z, asks Z’s opinion on things, and becomes agitated if Z is not included in every aspect of the family’s life. One of the many reasons Z is so effective is because it has some truly disturbing moments, including an incident that occurs when Elizabeth begs another mother to allow Joshua to come over and play with her son, resulting in a scene so chilling it caused me to audibly gasp.
Elizabeth is clearly under a lot of stress, not just because of Joshua’s imaginary friend; her mother is battling a terminal illness and it becomes evident that she has a strained relationship with her sister (Sara Canning), who hasn’t been involved in their mother’s care. Their father died when they were young and the circumstances surrounding his death were so traumatic for Elizabeth that she has blocked memories, which she learns about later in the film. Before seeing Z, I was only familiar with Keegan Connor Tracy’s work from the television series Bates Motel, and I was absolutely blown away by her phenomenal, nuanced portrayal of the emotionally tortured Elizabeth.
Eventually, strange things begin occurring; Elizabeth is awakened by a toy repeating the letter Z over and over; and she even starts to see things out of the corner of her eye, especially in the dark. Bradley Stuckel’s cinematography and music by Brittany Allen augment the feeling of dread that permeates the film and brilliantly maintain an incredibly creepy atmosphere. Concerned about Joshua’s bizarre demeanor and at their wits’ end, Elizabeth and Kevin decide to take Joshua to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Seager (Stephen McHattie), who encourages Joshua to draw to express how he’s feeling. Joshua begins drawing alarming pictures, including a frightening life-size picture of Z as a hulking creature with a grin and large, sharp teeth on his bedroom wall.
The subtle use of CGI to enhance the creature effects in Z and the fact that the audience only gets brief glimpses of Z throughout the film leave a lot about the appearance of the creature up to the viewer’s imagination, making the film an extraordinarily unnerving experience. Exceptional writing and character development, a thought-provoking, multi-layered story, and standout performances from Jett Klyne and Keegan Connor Tracy make Z a film that is guaranteed to haunt you for days after seeing it. Z is undeniably the scariest movie I have seen this year.
Extraordinarily unnerving and featuring exceptional, thought-provoking writing and standout performances from Keegan Connor Tracy and Jett Klyne, Z is guaranteed to get inside your head and haunt you for days.