I’ve said it before, and pardon me while I say it again: I like horror films. I could watch them all day long, mostly because I tend to find that even bad or under-budgeted horror films tend to have something of value. I usually chalk this up to the central idea – that germ of inspiration that fuels the greater picture, be it some obsession with revenge, trying to race away from a killer, or other things that go bump in the night. So long as there’s something in its core, even a low budget horror flick usually presents something worth talking about further, and I AM ZOZO is no different.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Celebrating their Halloween weekend on an island retreat, five teens decide to pull out the good ol’ Ouija Board (have they seen no horror pictures?) in order to chat with spirits. It isn’t too long before the self-professed Wiccan named Mel (played with modest Gothic charm by Courtney Foxworthy) and the film’s fair maiden Tess (a lovely Kelly McLaren, whom I hope finds more work) begin conversing with an unseen entity who goes by the name of Zozo. As luck with have it, Zozo is some grand master of evil in the spirit world, and it isn’t too long before the kids are regretting their chit-chat with the beyond.
I AM ZOZO is one of those releases everyone who enjoys small budget horror pictures has seen. It has a solid idea, some clever trickery in order to establish the otherworldly elements, and is respectably interesting. Writer/director Scott Di Lalla makes the most of his story, putting a small handful of talented youngsters through their paces. If it feels like it was all shot in a few days, then that’s probably not too far from the truth; shot entirely on Super 8mm film, ZOZO feels like something conceived by some smart kids, shot in their parents basement, and pieced together with more love than anything else.
On one front, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, ZOZO has scored modest acclaim; it’s been the recipient of two awards from the 2012 United States Super 8 Film + Digital Video Festival. Its scares are mostly in-the-mind and not necessarily up on the screen, following one of the true dictates of thoughtful horror that says you can imagine things far more intense than can often be presented visually.
However, in its pursuits for some smaller frights I thought that ZOZO took a few steps in the wrong direction. First, it’s probably too long; at 90 minutes, some of the film lags due to longer-than-needed takes that don’t truly elevate the atmosphere, mostly since everything already coated in layers of darkness. Second, the script wants the audience to believe that Zozo’s emergence here is entirely by chance; if that’s the case, then why did Tess recount a story involving her mother previously dealing with a Zozo-like experience in her past? In a scene that feels inspired by THE ENTITY, Tess even suffers the same fate, apparently being savaged by a horny Zozo. To this cynical reviewer, it felt a bit too convenient. Lastly, there are some scenes penned with obvious exposition – one wannabe magician has WAY too many convenient explanations for his understanding of the occult while the professed Wiccan has seemingly never heard of Zozo, despite the film’s statement at the beginning that Zozo frequently shows up to wreak havoc with those who would foolishly experiment with Ouija Boards.
Still, it’s a good thriller when you consider what it does with little budget. It definitely won’t find as wide an audience as the next big budget horror schlock, but it tries hard, understands (mostly) what it’s doing, and delivers only on the premise it set up. A nice effort by all involved.
I AM ZOZO (2012) is produced by One World Studios, Ltd. DVD distribution is being handled by RLJ Entertainment. As for the technical specifications? Well, this is independent filmmaking, so I strongly encourage you to bear that in mind as you make your way through the feature. The video is noticeably grainy, and the audio quality has small sequences where it comes and goes just a bit; neither is overwhelmingly distracting from the whole experience, but I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t point out those honest deficiencies. If special features are your thing, then there’s a Behind-the-Scenes featurette along with an interview with actor Darren Evans for you to consider: neither is all that revelatory, but it’s nice to have something, isn’t it?
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. Despite what some other reviewers or review might tell you, there is an audience for films the like of I AM ZOZO; however, the demands of larger audiences expecting vastly more flash, sizzle, and torture in their horror diet will keep this one on most rental shelves while I SPIT ON WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER ON ELM STREET will go out time and time again. ZOZO takes time to ratchet up its scares, most of which are in the mind, and the second class nature of independent cinema will always (always) work against any possible long-term successes it could find. The best that could be said is that I’d definitely pick up something written and directed by Scott De Lalla in the future, and that’s no small feat indeed.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of I AM ZOZO by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops". … more