Nestled in the French countryside, struggling theme park Zombillenium is staffed by monsters and the undead. The humans who come to the park think it’s all an act, but in reality the park is built on the mouth of hell and its staff were freed from damnation by the park’s manager making a deal with the devil. When the newly-dead Hector joins the operation he discovers a close-knit family of workers, and introduces modern ideas that rejuvenate the outmoded ghost house antics, much to the chagrin of the arrogant vampires who are determined to defend their position at the top.
Zombillenium starts off well, immediately pulling viewers in with its surreal world of monsters hiding in plain sight as Hector is inducted into the park’s operation, and introducing a rounded cast of characters like metalhead witch Gretchen, with whom Hector starts a love/hate relationship, and Sirius, a skeleton stuck in the ‘80s. It also doesn’t skimp on the poignant side of things, with Hector’s ‘death’ condemning his young daughter to the life of an orphan in a boarding school and at the mercy of a sadistic teacher.
Amidst the tales of everyday monster life there is a heavily socialist message running throughout, with the zombies seen as disposable blue-collar grunts there to perform menial labour as the elitist vampires profit off their labour, while the park’s infernal owner is far more interested in making money rather than creating something new and spectacular. The messages are simplified ones (this is a kids’ film, after all) and a little heavy-handed at times, but come through strongly enough that young viewers will get them.
After a while the lack of conflict makes the story start to drag, so to push things along a takeover attempt is instigated by the vampires and their leader Steven, a posturing narcissist whose interminable sparkling and affected brooding make him a star attraction among squealing teenage girls and instil in him the belief he should be in charge. The mockery of the pretentious Twilight vampires is clear, but as fun as it was to relentlessly ridicule the atrocious saga while we were being subjected to it, it’s been over and done with for years with its relevance subsequently dwindling, so any jokes levelled against it now feel a little dated. As though atoning for the flagging middle, the film is revitalised by an exciting finale full of action, emotion and satisfying confrontation that will be exciting for the young viewers but not so intense that it’ll scare them.
The animation is bright and colourful, in particular during the moments that Gretchen’s magic is unleashed, and humour is regularly provided by neat touches such as a headless ghost fanning herself, or Cerberus, the triple-headed canine guardian of the underworld, having a dominant middle head of a yipping terrier.
Zombillenium starts off well with an imaginative setup, but while the central idea is a compelling one with a great deal of potential, the meandering story prevents the film from being truly special.
Zombillenium / Cert: TBC / Director & Screenplay: Alexis Ducord, Arthur de Pins / Starring: Emmanuel Curtil, Alain Choquet, Kelly Marot, Alexis Tomassian, Mathieu Monnaert, Esther Corvez-Beaudoin / Release Date: TBC