What should you expect with a film titled All American Zombie Drugs? It can go one of two ways. Either the film is going for B-movie style horror or the title is a reference to the pulpy nature of its art house take on drugs. So which direction does All American Zombie Drugs take? Well, both and neither.
All American Zombie Drugs is certainly an interesting experiment that attempts to bond together two types of films but unfortunately falls short causing it to meander a bit in mediocrity.
All American Zombie Drugs
Director: Alex Ballar
Release Date: April 23, 2013 (VOD and DVD)
All American Zombie Drugs is about two drug users, named Vinny (Wolfgang Weber) and Sebastian (Beau Nelson), who are in constant search of their next high. Then one day they get the idea to go into the drug business for themselves. After a deal goes awry (and Vinny and Sebastian are left with an ineffective drug batch), the two friends just decide to make the drugs themselves. Which, of course, leads to shenanigans.
Now part of me doesn’t want to be entirely critical of AAZD just because it’s a small independent, digital release film, but most of me can’t seem to ignore the brunt of the film’s major flaws. There are a few positive aspects to be had, but they are sporadic in nature. AAZD attempts to criticize the major character’s life through the film’s sluggish pace. Whether or not this was intentional (I’d like to think it is), the film takes a startling amount of time for any character development, story, or action to take place. Normally I’m not someone who asks for quick resolutions or rushed character arcs, but AAZD takes a long time to really get going (the first major event of the film, Vinny and Sebastian decide to go into business for themselves, doesn’t take place until about 20-25 minutes into the film). If this apathetic story direction is intentional, then the pace is fantastic.
You see, Vinny and Sebastian are two drug using loafers. It would make sense for them to take longer than average to get anywhere. The still growth of the film’s two leads (although the heavier focus is placed on Vinny as he is the only one with conflict), becomes a criticism of the stagnancy permeating through youth drug culture. The rest of the film however, leads me to believe that this criticism wasn’t the desired conclusion.
One of the more glaring problems of the film (even more so than the pace), is the film’s delivery of exposition. While the dialogue exchanges between the drug using characters are delightfully naturalistic, AAZD struggles a bit when it tries to deliver story beats. The main focus of the film is Vinny’s struggle with his current drug life. You get a sense that he has a desire to leave it behind, but does not have the fortitude to do so. Unfortunately, the only reason the viewer’s aware that Vinny has any internal struggle at all is his heavy handed conscience. During certain drug trips, Vinny’s recently deceased brother becomes the physical manifestation of that conscience and delivers several speeches pleading for Vinny to get his life on a more positive track (when you realize his brother is played by the film’s writer, Alex Ballar, there’s a small knowing chuckle, but the problem then seems a lot more glaring that it should).
But hey, All American Zombie Drugs is a comedy! Even if there are hiccups, it wouldn’t necessarily matter if the film is funny, right? While I won’t try to dissect the humor for this review (as humor is one of the more subjective criticisms of a film), just know when the humor works, it works. And when it doesn’t…it reaaallly doesn’t. I will mention, however, that I enjoyed the nature of the film’s humor as it is mainly rooted in smaller character beats or when it knowingly laughs at its own absurdity. Sebastian is a character completely rooted in that absurdity. At first he is a grating individual. He’s constantly in a drug induced haze (which causes him to essentially sexually assault things in the environment), he berates his user girlfriend, and he laughs at Vinny’s misfortune. But when you realize his role in the story is to act as a negative parallel to Vinny, his actions slowly make sense and start becoming more humorous as the film rolls on.
Despite the film’s glaring problems with pace and story delivery, I was a little won over by the film’s end. When the titular zombies are introduced and the film delves completely into its preposterous setting, it’s endearing. Without going into spoilery details, All American Zombie Drugs’ emotional resolution feels earned within it’s drug stained world, while at the same time, making the rest of the film look worse overall. If the film could have committed toward it’s ending point sooner, it could have had a much more profound effect.
Unfortunately, the stumbling nature of story and lack of commitment toward its main character is what keeps All American Zombie Drugs from becoming a spectacular film. It can’t decide what kind of film it wants to be. Is it a stoner comedy? Is it a zombie horror? Is it a stoner horror comedy? Is it an after school special? Until All American Zombie Drugs figures out its genre, it’s stuck in the middle of nowhere.