Review by Sean Boelman
The second feature from director Brandon Christensen after his well-liked debut Still/Born, the new Shudder exclusive horror movie Z aims to recapture the glory of old-school haunted house thrillers. And while the first two-thirds of the film are frustratingly dull, the final third has enough creativity to hold the movie up.
The film follows a mother who begins to suspect that her eight-year-old’s imaginary friend may be real, and have sinister intentions for their family. One of the movie’s biggest drawbacks is that it is so predictable. While Christensen and co-writer Colin Minihan seem to have something up their sleeve that is a little more self-aware, that never really comes through.
With a runtime of a mere hour and twenty-three minutes, the film is short even for a horror flick, but it feels much longer because a majority of the movie isn’t particularly entertaining. The first forty-five minutes are building to the finale which, while surprisingly satisfying, still isn’t quite enough to compensate for the slow pace in the beginning.
Christensen should be praised for not using cheap jump scares, but the setups he uses to create frightening situations is a bit too by-the-book to be scary. Unfortunately, the invisible evil force trope has been played out so many times already that it barely has any effect at this point. That said, there is one moment about halfway through that is so startling that it will go down as one of the genre’s most effective this year.
The thing about the second half of the film that works so well is its world-building. Christensen and Minihan take this setup that is admittedly a tad generic and turn it into something a lot more unique. It takes far too long to get to this point, though, as the script has to cycle through all of the typical haunted house beats first.
Keegan Connor Tracy plays the movie’s lead, and she does a solid enough job in the role, particularly when it becomes much more interesting in the final act. Her ability to portray hysteria is part of what grounds the film. Child actor Jett Klyne is also surprisingly strong, turning in a believable performance.
On a technical level, Christensen’s movie is mostly very good, taking advantage of old-school horror effects rather than CGI. However, the film would have been much better off had Christensen invested a bit more in the atmosphere, with a score that is less over-the-top and cinematography that is more dynamic.
Brandon Christensen’s Z redeems itself with a strong finale, but there is still a lot of stuff here that needs more work. Regardless, with new mainstream horror options running low at the moment, this has just enough thrills to satiate genre fans, if only for a brief moment.
Z debuts on Shudder on May 7.