Zombi Child, while not scary, manages to stay in the horror genre for its decision to showcase and face uncomfortable truths. The pace is slow, the movie long (about 2 hrs), and if someone tweaked the narrative a little bit, the movie could have been straight horror instead of drama/horror.
But as is, the story works.
With a name like Zombi Child, voodoo plays a large part in the movie. Let me start with saying it’s obvious (unless I totally missed the mark) Wade Davis’s research held a significant role in how Voodoo is portrayed.
Second, this is probably the most respectful portrayal of Voodoo I’ve come across in media. Is it 100% accurate? I don’t know. I don’t even know if it’s 50% correct, but the way they address the religion is A) not hoodoo and B) community based.
That said, almost everyone is white, which highlights our one black girl in the school. We follow her white bff.
Groups help to ground or homogenize who you are as a person. Themes of community show up in Voodoo, the school curriculum, cliques, and Melissa, the new girl in school, joins up with Fanny and her crew.
Something you may love or hate, normal high school bullshit pervades most of the movie. Melissa wants to fit in with her friends and acts accordingly. This includes hiding the type of music she likes, her religion, and dancing when she’s alone, as you do. Fanny sits around fantasizing about her boyfriend, drifting away more and more often. The other friends gossip. It feels natural at least.
Melissa lets slip her aunt is a mambo and here starts the conflict of the film.
Appropriation of Voodoo
Now this is a hard discussion to have. Voodoo obviously is an African religion, which due to slavery has many different forms. There is an argument on whether the religion should remain purely African and whether white people have any right dealing in it.
I personally think that no one has the right to bar anyone from any religion. People should believe in whatever brings out their best self. As long as people approach the religion respectfully and take the time to learn, there are no issues.
Zombi Child excels at highlighting the bad parts of appropriation by the normalcy in which it is introduced. No one takes the time to comprehend Melissa’s poem, they don’t listen to the lyrics they sing out loud, they’ll watch a crappy blaxploitation zombie movie they hide it from Melissa (whether from embarrassment or shame remains to be seen), and when Fanny hears mambo she thinks of a magic solution to her problems.
Fanny does not see Voodoo as a religion. By the way she talks about it, it’s obvious she thinks it is magic. She meddles in it without resolve, proven by the fact she changes what she wants when a vague “understanding” of what Voodoo can do crosses her mind.
They show she lacks any real understanding when Melissa’s aunt says, “When you belong to Voodoo, you belong to a community.” Everything Fanny does is on her own, on her terms, for her own self centered reasons.
Without spoiling anything, in the end Fanny gets what she wants with the consequences falling to an unknowing Melissa.
Admittedly, towards the end Zombi Child‘s themes muddle a bit if you look too closely. But, we see the damage people cause through casual ignorance and mindless taking. The movie is not scary and the most noticeable horror doesn’t come until the end, at the culmination of all the small missteps.
Again, the Voodoo shown is leagues above White Zombie or the Voodoo Spellbook . . .(4 / 5)