Thursday, May 07, 2020

Shudder: Z

It turns out Dr. Spock and most horror movies agree on at least one thing. It is definitely a bad thing when kids over 4-years still play with imaginary friends. However, horror movies are more vehement on the subject. That is especially true of the “imaginary” monster plaguing the Parsons family in Brandon Christensen’s Z (not to be confused with Costa-Gavras’s film), which premieres today on Shudder (in time for Mother’s Day).

Joshua Parsons used to be a good kid, until he started playing with an ominously controlling imaginary friend, who prefers to go by just plain “Z.” Since then, young Parsons has become disruptive in school and violent with his classmates. His parents even take him to a noted child psychologist, but Dr. Seager is not very Spockian. He assures them their son is fine, but it gives him a moment of pause when he hears the name “Z.”

Z is built around a familiar concept, but the execution is strong. There are some very creepy elements, as well as moments that will truly horrify any parent. Having previously helmed Still/Born, Christensen really seems to have it in for parenthood, but this is a much more effective film.

Z himself is nicely designed and seen on-screen just enough to maximize the dramatic impact and sufficiently withheld to build a sense of mystery. Of course, Christensen also has a genre ace-in-the-hole with Stephen McHattie, who plays a good doctor this time around, as Dr. Seager.

Young Jett Clyne convincingly handles the Bad Seed business as Joshua, while Keegan Conor Tracy falls apart spectacularly, as his mother Elizabeth. The subplot involving her sister with substance abuses issues is somewhat messy and left under-developed, but Sara Canning is still quite good in the part.

When Z isn’t being scary, it is often highly unsettling. Christensen and company relentlessly strip away all sense of security that usually comes from hearth-and-home settings. Parenthood is a real nightmare in this film. Recommended for horror fans (but not expectant parents), Z starts streaming today (5/7) on Shudder.