In Haiti, someone puts magic powder put into a man’s shoes, he “dies” and is buried alive, then rises up to become a cane field zombie. Meanwhile, years later at a boarding school in France, a Haitian immigrant teenager leads a group of girls in strange midnight rituals. As Zombi Child sleepwalks on, we begin to wonder how filmmaker Bertrand Bonello is going to reconcile the strands of his story.
103 minutes later, we’re still wondering. Beautiful Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat), her best friend Fanny (Louise Labeque), and their classmates spend a lot of time languidly posing in the school locker room after showering. In class, teachers solemnly inform them about the wrongs of imperialism. Is Mélissa cool or just weird? Without warning the action abruptly shifts back to nighttime Haiti, where the zombis — slow-moving relatives of the “zombies” in American fright flicks — provide cheap field labor for their colonial masters. What’s going on here?
This is not really a horror pic — more like an unsuccessful hybrid of 17 Girls and The Serpent and the Rainbow, with the added “relevance” of a young Black woman as plot device. French writer-director Bonello simultaneously screws up two potentially okay genres, but it’s not as if he’s deliberately trying to make fun of them. His film seems reasonably sincere, but dreadfully awkward. Not even the fine ethnographical location work in Haiti nor the explosive finale can rescue it. Zombi Child is dead on its feet.