Zombies are everywhere these days; pop culture-speaking wise at least.
But what, wonders Already Dead, a masterful short film from Posh Dinosaur Productions, that manages the supremely-difficult balance of being funny and heartfelt, if they were actually “living” among us in society?
Written and directed by Michael James Dean, Already Dead successfully uses the faux-documentary style employed by everyone from Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge to Rickt Gervais’s The Office to examine what might happen if zombies were simply suffering from a disease and could be treated with a drug called Zombenzine (A pill a day, keeps the zombie away!”).
Not cured mind you, but treated in such a way that their brain-eating proclivities can be largely curbed – as one of the subjects in the film observes there will always be “slip ups”; unfortunately these involve someone dying so it’s not quite one too many beers on the way home from Alcoholics Anonymous – and they can potentially become vital, contributing members of society again.
The key word there is “potentially”.
As Dean’s beautifully-nuanced and surprisingly emotionally-resonant film observes with a keen eye for current social issues such as immigration and diseases such as HIV, there is a great deal of prejudice standing between zombies such as middle aged dad George (Darren Ruston) and school teacher Lynn (Shelley Davenport) returning to anything resembling their former lives.
For a start, the British Government considers them officially dead, meaning they cannot access the National Health System (NHS) and must pay for all their medication. a particular challenge for a group that doesn’t exactly possess the most stellar of employment prospects.
But far more worrying for people like George, his best friend Jeff (Luke Shaw) and Lynn is outright, often violent, bigotry from people like unemployed Marcus who spouts the kind of hateful “Go back where you came from” rhetoric so beloved of the lunar right and uninformed masses.
Even more poignantly for George, this kind of prejudice comes from his own son Freddie (Simon Bellars) who says he no longer a father and that he died the day he was bit in 2001.
It’s heartbreaking to hear George especially address how lonely and alienating it is when people, including your own son, won’t embrace you or come near you, confirming your pariah status with every distrustful stare and crossing of the street.
It’s this sensitivity to the wider social implications of the effects of Zombenzine widespread use in the community, a perspective sorely missed by Dr Lucille Bomar who sings the drug’s praises as if it is the cure it most assuredly is not, that lends Already Dead such immediacy.
To medical personnel zombies are simply a patient to be treated and nothing more but as you hear George and Lynn talk – Lynn is lucky in that her fiance David (Tony Cook is standing by her despite her occasional attempts to eat him – and to the bigots a pestilence to be exterminated.
But for the zombies themselves, there is no escape from the societal stigma they carry, one perpetuated by Government which has essentially labelled them a non-people.
Taking a more sober but no less engaging approach to that used so brilliantly by What We Do in the Shadows, which shone a faux documentary light, so to speak, on vampire subculture in New Zealand, Already Dead does an intelligent, touching job of reminding us that there is no such thing as a simple fix for trenchant social issues (something that In the Flesh also did so admirably).
Through the all-too-human stories of George, Lynn and Jeff we’re reminded that you can never ignore the humanity inherent in any issue and that slogans, bumper stickers and vitriol-laced pejoratives are no solution when there are people crying out for an ongoing, meaningful way of addressing real issues that affect them daily.
Through references to the media – George ruefully remarks at one point that Hollywood has a lot to answer for when it comes to zombie misinformation – societal conservatism and prevailing official policy, Already Dead manages to pull back the grubby veil on the community’s inability to often move beyond fixed attitudes and plain unvarnished prejudice.
Suffused throughout with delightful comedic flourishes, and bolstered throughout by robust intelligence, emotional insight and a uniformly excellent cast who bring the thorny complexity of a prevailing social issue to authentic life (or death as the case may be), Already Dead is a near-perfect example of what the faux documentary genre can accomplish in shining a necessary light on humanity’s foibles and the need for much more than reflex motions when it comes to the lives, and yes living death, of people.