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Emily Hagins is making a zombie movie. It's feature-length, it's bloody, and the zombies don't run -- just like it should be. But there's one difference between her film and every other zombie movie you've ever seen: Emily is twelve.
Emily is part of a new generation of teenagers raised on technology and expressing themselves through video. Only -- she's doing it on a feature-length scale!
Emily has the vision and her mom has the driver's license. Together, their journey is a fascinating look at a growing world of young moviemakers and bloodiest mother / daughter story you've ever seen.
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I won't ruin it for you but its not as amazing as it's made out to be. keep expectations low.
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"Zombie Girl: The Movie" is an award-winning documentary about a tween who loved movies--so much so that she wanted to direct her own. With her mother, Megan, handling the boom microphone (a mike duct-taped onto the end of a paint roller extension) and helping with transportation and other important film-making chores, such as shopping for and making props, and applying stage makeup to the actors, Hagins managed to make her movie. Dad Jerry appears as a researcher in the film and had a few film-making tasks for which he was responsible. Hagins even received a $1000 grant, which was of more interest to Mom, who had been financing, than to Emily.
"Zombie Girl: The Movie" features interviews with the Hagins family, as well as the cast and crew of "Pathogen," and Emily's mentors. Her big break was director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) writing to a friend in Austin (where the Hagins live), telling him to assist the girl.
In between scenes of production, we see family members carving pumpkins, cooking and making music together. Megan and Emily have a few disagreements, most over "artistic vision," and Megan must walk the tightrope stretched between responsible mom and film tech.
Emily Hagins wrote "Pathogen" when she was ten years old. When filming began, she was twelve. She and her cast scheduled filming around homework, school holidays and events, and family activities. The bulk of filming occurred on weekends and during school vacations. Inevitably, shooting fell behind and the project took much longer to complete than was expected.
"Zombie Girl: The Movie follows" Emily through early stages of film-making to opening night; the Alamo Drafthouse, where the film was screened, sold out. In a funny scene the director greeted her audience and introduced her film with aplomb, making it clear that she didn't really want to talk about continuity.
Throughout "Zombie Girl: The Movie", adults involved in film-making and criticism discuss the technological changes that have allowed teenagers to become filmmakers, including their positive and negative aspects. Also included on the DVD are a number of extras, including interviews and the entire feature-length film, "Pathogen" (this is the first film I've seen where the "making of" was the feature and the film was a "bonus"). For info on all of Emily's movies, visit cheesynuggets.com.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent/stream "Zombie Girl: The Movie?" Buy! There's a certain teenage Chloë I need to send a copy to--she wants to be a filmmaker, too. (Zombie Girl: The Movie on DVD hits the streets November 9.)
Wow! Emily has a lot of ambition and her devoted mother (Megan)is her number one fan.
The film is a wonderment of that special time at the brink of adolescents when possibilities seem endless and potential is unbound. The film also thoughtfully depicts the trepidations that naturally occur as children (Emily) make steps towards adulthood and parents allow that process to happen.
When I was writing "The New Horror Handbook," I not only wanted to cover some of the landmark horror movies of the 21st century, but also to include a section on the effect the genre has had on up-and-coming filmmakers. When I came across then-14-year-old Emily Hagins and her zombie movie "Pathogen," and the documentary about its making, "Zombie Girl: The Movie," I had to include a chapter on both.
"Zombie Girl" does something I've never seen accomplished before -- faithfully and lovingly document the joys and aggravations of the creative process. Sure, there are plenty of "making of" featurettes, some better than others. But this movie has two advantages. The primary one is Emily Hagins herself. This is a young girl brimming with creativity and drive, yet with enough maturity and support from her family to see her vision through to completion. Second, a refreshing lack of the manufactured drama that reality TV has made us all accustomed to. Finally, after watching this movie, chances are good that you will want to make your own movie, or write a novel, or paint a masterpiece -- whatever long-held creative passions you've carried with you suddenly won't seem so out of reach. I can't think of a greater accomplishment for a film.
In case you don't know about the subject of this fascinating documentary, I'll fill you in: in 2006, a low-budget direct-to-video horror movie called Pathogen was released with absolutely no fanfare*. It's really nothing special; the only people who've seen it are zombie aficionados like myself who will devour, no pun intended, anything having to do with zombies. There is one very interesting detail about Pathogen, however; its director, Emily Hagins, was twelve years old when the film was released, and she'd written her first draft of the script at ten. While that doesn't do anything from an empirical standpoint as regards the quality of the movie, there's still a level on which it instantly goes from "yeah, this is okay" to "friggin' awesome!". In any case, Zombie Girl is the story of the making of Pathogen, from first take to last. Johnson (Dog Tired), Marshall (12th and Ripley), and Mauck (The Lucky Mutant) have documented a creative process that may well be unlike anything American cinema has ever seen. And about this one, there's no "yeah, this is okay" level; this is one of the best movies of the year.
Johnson et al. follow Hagins for months as she scrapes together cash, casts extras at the last minute, suffers family tensions, and most importantly, learns the filmmaker's craft as she goes along. (The first scene of the documentary, while it initially seems as if it's making fun of Hagins, becomes clear as the film goes along; she really, honestly knows not a thing about making a movie at the beginning of the process other than that she wants to do it. By the end of this movie, she's displayed a remarkable amount of what my dad calls "stick-to-itiveness".) Because of this, I'm going to guess that the movie is more likely to appeal to film buffs more than anyone else, but a more general audience will respond to the tension, which is far more real than anything you're likely to see on reality TV, and is actually handled with a great deal of aplomb by everyone involved (really, do you expect this kind of maturity from a twelve year old girl? I have both a fourteen-year-old daughter and a fourteen-year-old sister-in-law, and my answer is a decided "no"). There's some great stuff about how to do make movies when you've no money to work with (at one point they construct a boom mike out of what looks for all the world like cardboard paper towel roll cores). But at the heart of it all, it's a story about a kid with a dream. How all-American can you get?
See this. Show it to your kids. Show it to your parents. And your neighbors. And everyone else you can round up. In a year when, arguably, Hollywood has produced its strongest crop of movies in a decade or more, and the overseas markets have done a fantastic job as well, the little indie documentary that could still outshines the bulk of the lot. This is amazing work. ****
* * *
[the original Pathogen review from 2008]
Pathogen (Emily Hagins, 2006)
Pathogen is your typical micro-budget zombie movie, except for a few things. The first you will likely notice is that the average age of the cast is much lower than usual, even in the horror film world (where it often seems as if the average age of the actors isn't much greater than eighteen anyway). Then there's the gore factor, which is curiously restrained for a movie of this sort. Then there's the language, which has the same amateur ring to it as most microbudget horror flicks, but, again, has a restraint to it that's not common, to say the least, in the genre. So you get around to looking it up, and you find that director Emily Hagins made this film when she was twelve years old. So, yeah, something different here.
We open to a news report about a biotechnology company who's working on a nanotech cure for cancer. Cut to a meeting where Sue (Rebecca Elliott), the head researcher on the project, is being told her funding is being eliminated, and why: instead of curing cancer, the nanotech is going after healthy cells. It quickly becomes obvious where this scene is going, and if this were a typical Hollywood zombiefest, you'd be able to write the next scene yourself without having seen it. But this is not a Hollywood movie, and the next scene gives us the first surprise. It's not especially subtle, graceful, or anything like that, but it's there, and that's what counts. In any case, the nanotech gets into the town's water supply, and people start getting sick. And worse. A group of middle school students find themselves to be, as far as they can tell, the last living human beings in the city. How to survive against hordes of zombies?
There's nothing here that will surprise you a great deal in the forest, though some of the trees look decidedly original. And I know that as a reviewer, I'm just supposed to look at this as a movie, but I can't; how often have you seen a zombie movie directed by a twelve-year-old? Well, yeah, I've never seen one either, but I'm relatively certain they're not supposed to be this good. There's no deathless cinema experience here, but this is a solid, if exceptionally low-budget, first feature from a director who's got quite a future in front of her. (Her second film should be out later this year.) Definitely worth looking into if you stumble across a copy. ***