What do you get it you cross the modern brain munching zombie with one hundred year old voodoo ritual, subjugation and plantation work, and present it as a Mexican soap with likeable characters, romance, drama, intrigue and social commentary worthy of someone who's just finished their first semester in Sociology and has something they really want to get off their chest. Well, you get director and writer Ricardo Islas's odd little tale from the crypt 'The Zombie Farm', which despite looking like it was filmed in the eighties direct on to VHS tape, is quite the endearing if flawed zombie short if one can stomach all the character build-up.
I say short with disingenuous motives as at ninety minutes it can hardly be accused of being presentationally-stunted; it's just that had they, the director and production team, decided to tighten the preamble, rein in the racial, class and gender dissections and not insist on exploring the depths of the main characters psyches then the story could easily have been told in the half-hour slot provided by the aforementioned popular long running TV series. The thing is though, and this has weighed heavy on me since finishing, is I actually quite enjoyed the utterly superfluous extras and the actors do a very good job of making the vapid and banal narrative feel real and important.
Ana Maria (Monika Munoz) has an abusive husband and no way out. Fortunately for her there's a local voodoo priestess, with intimate knowledge of the dark arts, access to the toxins in the liver of puffer fish and has a strong desire to zombify non-white locals. Preying on Ana's vulnerability, and desperation, she provides her with a potion which she duly administers but, but rather than being rewarded with Prince Charming, she ends up with a psychotic undead marauder hell bent on revenge. This is where Roque Santero (Roberto Montesinos), a fraudulent yet good hearted spiritualist, and his new best friend, reporter wannabe Adriana Cataño as Pilar Franco come in; at first involuntarily, then later as keen investigators, up for thwarting the sinister plans of the evil witch and saving the day.
The title of the film is Zombie Farm, and without giving too much away there is a zombie farm, though it's not as you'll picture it, if you've spent any time looking at the cover, of this 2009 re-release. The thing is, the late Antonio (Khotan Fernandez), and his whole being rather pissed off and not wanting to leave Ana alone, while an interesting yarn in itself, on inspection not only doesn't really fit with the wider narrative, but rather shows itself up as a forced vehicle to get everyone else to where they need to be. The farm which finally brings some darkness and tension, and one feels is the real focus of the story and the ultimate pay-off for the all the build-up, is at odds with his behaviour, motives and actions despite him still having a rather large part to play. There's narrative disconnect between the two, and maybe his role feels bigger than it should because he has so much screen time and attention; stumbling from one place to the next (with magical or convenient location finding skills and timing) causing carnage and mayhem in his wake; and the farm arrives far too late in proceedings to feel meaningful. And it's not the only incoherence.
There's a strange mix at work with the zombies. On the one hand, it's Brazilian, old tribal Africa and ritual and belief, mixed with Christianity and the new world; a la voodoo, as we last saw in The Serpent and the Rainbow. The priestess administers a toxin, the victim displays all the traits of being done for only to later be revived and taken as a mindless somnambulist servant ready to obey her will. This is even hinted at with her line when all is revealed that they're 'not really dead'. Yet there's the position throughout that they really are dead, most notably in an early scene, where Roque clearly shoots Antonio clean through the noggin. Then there's the general hunger for human flesh and an actual mass zombie gut munch later on; something that seems at odds with the whole 'hypnotised but very much alive'. This lack of cohesiveness doesn't detract from a film already heavily focused non zombie things, yet it's a laziness that does irk, after all the trouble they'd seemingly gone to, to play with voodoo credibly in the first place.
At its heart, Zombie Farm is a good story well told. It's full of inconsistencies and strange choices but it somehow binds together to provide an entertaining, interesting and altogether not too unpleasant experience. Also while the characters first come across as a little too divergent from the norm, and the actors amateur and unsuited, Islas grounds everything and brings an assuredness to their performances and dialogue, and has them complimenting each other remarkably quickly. Not a zombie for film for the purist, nor a non-zombie film for the undead-averse, and also not by any stretch a good film; The Zombie Farm still manages to satisfy an uncanny void one never knew was there - 5/10.