Fantastic Fest 2008 - Zombie Girl


A few years back, a young woman named Emily Hagins directed a low-budget horror flick called Pathogen. Not that fascinating a story all by itself, I'll give you that, even if it's always cool to meet a new female horror freak. (And trust me, you have to be a big-time horror freak to write and direct a zombie movie over the course of two hectic years.) Now, what makes the Pathogen story so unique is that Ms. Hagins was precisely 13 years old when she became a bona-fide filmmaker. And for all of the final project's rough edges and first-timer flaws, the simple fact is that Emily Hagins DID direct a horror flick when she was 13 years old, and I think that's a very cool story indeed.

Apparently filmmakers Justin Johnson, Erik Mauck and Aaron Marshall felt the same way I did, only they took Emily's lead and set out to make THEIR own film. The title, of course, is Zombie Girl: The Movie, and it's a damn fine little documentary that covers the trajectory of Pathogen from conception to completion. So on one hand we have the simple angles of "girl power," "indie creativity," and "horror fanaticism" covered, which could make for a solid enough documentary, but Zombie Girl goes a bit father than that: It's an unintentional love letter to the movie-lovin' city that is Austin, Texas; it's a testament to the power of drive and passion; and it's a crystal-clear compilation of how many headaches a parent will suffer -- just to see their children succeed.

As a breezy behind-the-scenes peek at how micro-budget movies get made, Zombie Girl could be shown in high school film classes ... and probably should. Ms. Hagins leaps into her debut feature with no experience at all, but a whole lot of passion for the genre. Fortunately for Emily, she also has two excellent parents, a handful of loyal friends, and the city of Austin behind her. Local film folks Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse), Harry Knowles and Chris Cargill (Aint It Cool News), and producer Rebecca Elliott take an immediate interest in Emily's production, and they (along with several other educators and authors) share their insights regarding, well, whether or not a 13-year-old girl should be directing a gory zombie movie. But since Austin is a city that prides itself on supporting all varieties of artistic endeavor, the collective answer turns out to be an enthusiastic YES.

And then there are the parents. What sort of mom and dad would allow their child to direct a splattery horror flick that most 13-year-olds shouldn't even WATCH, let alone create? Well, it sure looks like Jerry Hagin is an intelligent, supportive, and no-nonsense sort of Dad -- and I could be wrong, but Megan Hagins may just be the hardest-working mom in the movie business. I half-expected Ms. Hagins to be a forceful "stage mom" type, but it's pretty damn clear that young Emily is the driving force behind the Pathogen project -- which leaves mom wearing the hats of producer, chaueffeur, costume and effects designer, caterer, and all-around support staff. Mom definitely lets Emily make her own movie, but she's not afraid to slip on the "executive producer" suit when production goes over-schedule and the actors have to get home for supper. The one thing mother and daughter share unreservedly is an unquenchable passion for the movies ... plus it's just cool to see a mom and a kid who can argue, get over it, smile together, and hug. Before throwing more gore onto a supermarket floor.

It's probably because Zombie Girl is a sincere and heartfelt look at a genre I adore that I had such a good time with this documentary, but really: You could remove "zombie movie" from the equation and replace it with "guitar lessons" or "spelling bee" and I'd have been just as entertained. There's something undeniably satisfying about watching a young and refreshingly un-jaded person leap into a project with little more than enthusiasm to guide her. That Ms. Hagins may actually have some talent -- and a really cool pair of parents -- is kind of beside the point.