Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Movie stars Sam Suchmann, Mattie Zufelt
Directed by Bobby Carnevale, Jesse Suchmann
Disability is a difficult topic. People often see those with disabilities as “less than”. In Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Movie, where both subjects have Down’s syndrome, sidesteps this completely. The film only brings up their Down’s syndrome a few times in passing. At its heart, it’s about, and as cliché as this sounds, following your dreams.
Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt met at the Special Olympics and immediately hit it off. They had a shared vision to create the most awesome zombie movie ever. Voicemails from Sam to his brother Jesse Suchmann play near the beginning of the film, with Sam repeatedly telling Jesse he has new ideas for his movie.
With Sam living in Providence, Rhode Island, and Jesse living in New York, the time between the brothers is at a premium. After multiple phone calls and also texts, Jesse finds the time to come see what his brother and Mattie have been up to.
Following this, we begin a journey starting where a lot of good movies also start; Kickstarter. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Sam and Mattie, along with Jesse, have just over $65,000 to make their dream movie. The first rule of the movie?
Sam and Mattie are in charge.
Sam and Mattie handled all of the creative decisions down to even storyboarding. This is where the documentary shines. The chemistry between Sam and Mattie is inescapable. You find yourself in their world of blood and guts and also sex, which Mattie is quick to bring up a pitch meeting, bringing a slight correction from Jesse (I suppose they didn’t have 100% creative control). “We’re PG-13” Jesse reminds them.
After hammering out a first draft script they speak with a producer who also gives them a breakdown of what it costs to make a movie. Afterward, the film dives into a montage of what they had to do to get the movie in order on their shoestring budget.
VFX legend Tony Gardner (Zombieland, Freaky) visits to get some zombie advice. And Peter Farrelly (Green Book, Dumb and Dumber) sit-downs for a script rewrite. After that, work on the movie starts in earnest. Farrelly also serves as Executive Producer but the film doesn’t mention it.
Following the pair through the struggles and successes of filmmaking all the way up to the world premiere of their film: Spring Break Zombie Massacre. At this point, the film flips. Now you’re treated to the entirety of Spring Break Zombie Massacre. Plus, Jesse stops the movie a few times to cut back to the events that led up to the scene. Notable highlights include a product placement pitch meeting involving the word “burritogasm”. Plus, a flashback to a girl standing Mattie up for his real-life prom. In these moments you can see that even though making a movie is fun, it is not a complete departure from day-to-day problems faced by Sam and Mattie.
By the end of the film, I realized I had been smiling pretty much the whole time. It reminded me of being younger and watching horror movies on VHS. Imagining what it would be like to make them. Sam and Mattie’s dedication is inspiring. They set out to make the best zombie movie, and, having seen it, they were right on the money.
Transcending stereotypes about the disabled, Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Movie will have you smiling all the way through. To quote Sam and Mattie: “Rock on, go wild!”