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Zombillenium (2017)

Zombillenium is a theme park populated by zombies, vampires, ghouls and other monsters. However, the customers are unaware that the park's staff are not humans wearing costumes- but are in fact the real deal. When fusty health and safety inspector Hector discovers the secret and threatens to shut it down, he finds himself unwillingly becoming the latest addition to the park's undead staff

Zombillenium is a French/Belgian family CGI feature written and directed by Arthur de Pins and Alexis Ducord , adapting their graphic novel series of the same name. It screened at the 2017 Cannes festival and subsequently played numerous other festivals around the world, including Annecy and Animation Is Film.

If you're expecting a Jurassic Park or Westworld style storyline, where the park's monsters turn against the visitors- this is not that film. This is much more sympathetic to the monsters, who apart from their often ghoulish appearance, seem as human as anyone else. They're more likeable than Hector, the film's main character too, at least at first. His personality makes him not easy to warm to, although the fact he is a widower and a single father to a young girl suggests there is at least reason behind his prickly nature.  Ironically, it's only after he is transformed into a zombie that he begins to regain his humanity- see what they did there?

Hector's redemption is only part of the story, and there is also the issue of the fate of the park itself. The park isn't as popular as it once was, as zombies are falling out of favour and sexier sparklier vampires are gaining popularity (there's some obvious jabs at the likes of Twilight here). If the staff can't turn it around soon, the park will shut down and the employees sent back to hell.

Zombillenium has a distinctive visual style. Despite being CG, its use of a cel-shaded look manages to do real justice to the comics that the film is based on. It's not the smoothest animation in the world, and it occasionally shows its budgetary limitations but it makes up for its shortfalls with visual invention.

The "zombies" of this world are much more varied than your traditional George Romero style shambling dead. Some appear as skellingtons, some as mummies and Hector appears as a winged, horned demon. As the heroes in a family film, they're an unusual bunch.

If one character stands out from the rest, it has to be Gretchen, the film's female lead- and a witch. With her purple hair, tattoos and punk-rock attitude she is a distinctively designed character and a heck of a lot of fun to watch whenever she's on screen. It's also pretty easy to see why she became the film's poster-girl.

Despite the horror-ish theme of the film, there's not really anything here that will scare any but the youngest (or most sensitive) of children. Being a French film, there's also a couple of moments that you probably wouldn't expect to see in an American family flick (such as one in which Gretchen is disturbed while semi-dressed in a changing room) but nothing that wouldn't be suitable in a PG.

The English dub of the film is perfectly fine but unremarkable. It neither stands out as particularly bad or especially good but it does at least handle the musical sequences well. I have not had the chance to see the film in its original language version but would like to, as I suspect it would add to the film's distinctive feel.

With a sub-90 minute running time, Zombillenium never outstays its welcome and provides the requisite thrills and spills (and a few laughs) as long as it lasts. And with the visual flair on display, the directors- making their feature debut- have arrived on the world stage with style.


IN A NUTSHELL: A stylish and spookily fun ride.