Zombi Child 2019 ****


If you’re only going to see one film about black magic in a girls’ school, then you’d probably be best to skip the Suspiria remake and head straight for Zombi Child, a remarkably poetic yet properly horrific film from Bertrand Borello, whose Nocturama has become a cult item; he’s likely to increase his considerable reputation with this hard-to-categorise, highly original film.

The presence of real-life historian Patrick Boucheron, seen delivering a lecture on French history and specifically on the meaning of the revolution, is an early tip-off that Zombi Child is not one for the casual viewer. The history lesson is at a posh girls school, where the pupils include Fanny (Louise Labeque), who strikes up a friendship with and Haitian refugee Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat) over a mutual love of Stephen King’s writing. Mélissa has a story to tell, shared with the audience in a counter-narrative about the death of her uncle Clairvius (Mackenson Bijou) who died in Haiti circa 1962 only to be reanimated as a zombie. Mélissa has a certain discomfort mixed with respect in terms of her own family history, but Fanny is keen to explore, leading to a climax that revitalises familiar horror tropes due to the careful work that’s led to that point.

Jump-scares, cap-doffing, in-jokes and such conventional horror-movie moves are entirely absent here; Zombi Child plays so hard and straight with the material that it’ll work for the art-house crowd in particular. But there’s enough frisson in the activities of Fanny’s aunt Katy (Katiana Milfort) to draw a sophisticated crowd; the modish pop-culture references to Rhianna help keep Borello’s vision fresh.

The weight of the past, and of French colonialism in particular, loom large over Zombi Child, a horror film of rare intelligence and wit; the final scenes are frightening, but also satisfying, and the long wait for the pay-off is more than worthwhile. Screened at Cannes in 2019, it’s a smart pick-up for MUBI, who have this exculsively on their books from the 18th of Oct 2019.


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  1. Delightful review and great cinema shooting of ritual scenes! The veil grows thin and magic, mystery, and hoodoo enters…Great comments RE Angel Heart as well (IMHO one of Mickey’s best)…you’ve put me in the mood for a marathon of voodooish films … Skeleton Key, Eve’s Bayou, The Believers… My research indicates zombi powder is 2 parts tetrodotoxin, 1 part bufo marinus, 1 part hyla tree frog, cemetery dirt/bones, lizards, lime, sea worms, & a tarantulas or two…the survived, revived zombi is then given Datura and cucumber derivative, wizard hypnotism, and sea salt…hardly child’s play though protag thinks otherwise!

    • Thanks for this! Not sure why, but life is throwing voodoo movies at me right now; The Believers is a great shout too, and I Walked With A Zombie. I think I’ll start a voodoo sidebar! Cheers!

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