We’ve had flesh eaters populating so many cinema screens, it’s sometimes difficult for zombie movies to portray a world wherein zombie movies don’t exist. MexZombies, a horror comedy out of Mexico taking its festival tour now to the Toronto After Dark Film Fest, doesn’t ever try to ignore zombie movies, but instead, treats them as important information for the characters. MexZombies plays to those of us who made our contingency plans after consuming zombie media and maybe kind of secretly hoped we’d be validated when the monsters showed up, making our movie geekdom suddenly incredibly cool and tough.
Tavo (Iñaki Godoy) lives on the other side of the gate. His friends are residents of the private community, Sierra Linda, a polished little slice of land patrolled by guards in golf carts. Here lives his best pal, Jacob (or as he prefers to be called, Cronos, played by Marcelo Barcelo), his crush, Ana (Roberta Damián), and of course, Jefe Vargas (Bárbara de Regil), the beautiful drug queen hoping to cash in on a new designer product. But her product, the one the chemists have been testing out, isn’t quite ready for dissemination. When her rogue henchmen decide to give it a real-world test drive, the drug creates a brief sense of euphoria before turning the user into a zombie. As a result, Sierra Linda is soon overrun by flesh eating undead, and it’s up to Tavo and his pals to contain the contagion and slaughter the undead before all of Mexico is overrun with monsters. What the teens know, especially thanks to Jacob, I mean, Cronos, who eagerly consumes cinema, is that zombies are attracted to sound. That means the Halloween party happening at the club house is a target, and they must overcome their bullies and absent parents to save everyone from the would-be outbreak.
MexZombies is a blood splattered delight from beginning to end. The kids are all so charming and boast such specific personalities that are used to make you love them and laugh at them (Johnny “from Massachusetts who moved to Texas when he was four” is a hilarious conduit to poke fun at Americans while still letting you root for the Rambo fan). The film maximizes the personal relationship dynamics to weave a beautiful story of love and friendship into a zombie movie. It also goes so far as to tackle racism, classism, and the idea that the world’s problems (like maybe a deadly and rapidly spreading virus) often cause more stress for the young, and how much added pressure is on them to repair things.
What’s magical about this movie is that it doesn’t shy away from these themes while being a top-to-bottom zombie flick, and then still balances it all to make for a sunny and joyful romp. The brightly colored and immaculate community getting splashed with darkly tinted blood is evocative of Santa Clarita Diet, and the zany children’s relationships as they bounce around a familiar area is reminiscent of Cooties. It’s always pleasant and sweet, and the focus on the kids lets the adults be expendable in a way that allows for gruesome deaths that still let you laugh. The goriest shots look like slow mo “bullet time” which adds an extra level of hilarity while lingering on the nastiest goop.
Director, Chava Cartas, (who used a script from Luis Gamboa and Santiago Limón) has an eclectic filmography made up of sitcoms, dramas, and crime shows. It makes me curious how his Donnie Brasco inspired series, El Dandy, appears, especially with respect to how he treats Jefe Vargas here. Vargas is shot like an over-the-top gangster with her sprawling ornate manor, often caught posing while wielding her dog. I love the idea that his gangster drama sensibilities were lampooned in his own horror comedy feature. Cartas started his career as a cinematographer which shows in how unique of a style the zombie shots are, especially when paired with the reverence with which the sparkly scenery is treated (though he was paired with cinematographer, Beto Casillas, for this outing).
The details of this charming tale are what hold it together- Jacob’s Tallahassee (from Zombieland) costume, the bubbly score, all through to the jokes made at older tropes’ expenses. It sometimes deals in tired story points and doesn’t do much to change up the zombie movie recipe, but its take on these things induces mostly smiles and just a few winces. By keeping the devastation to a minimum (while not shying away from the realities of zombie bite deaths), MexZombies toes the line of being gateway horror, making it a sunny day out for those looking to add something to their Halloween roster.
MexZombies took me by surprise when it started with a campy looking shot of a mouse turning into a monster then splashed its set with sunlight and Halloween love. This plucky little story about bffs and bites can totally zombie walk its way into our hearts and our annual October watch rosters.
Movie Score: 4/5