On a busy urban street a young alpha male businessman is overcome by racking coughs and convulsions. Yet even in his death throes, he cannot stop yammering on his cell phone to his “bro” or stop lamenting the unfair treatment of straight, white males. The shopkeeper whom he has just run out of business looks on in confusion while a vapid realtor mistakes it all for performance art. Is this the start of the zombie apocalypse… Or something much worse?
So begins Z-Stuy (pronounced “Zed-Stuy”). The short film, written and directed by Devan Gallagher, draws strength from every classic zombie trope it can possibly cram into its brief run time. A wily survivor (Crystal Sha’nae) whom no one believes until it is too late leads a doomed band of survivors in search of safety. Debates are had about whether to spare an infectee or kill him, even as he transforms before their very eyes. And of course, no one seems to have ever heard of a zombie before or understand how they work. But there is more at work here than just a comedic send-up of the zombie genre. Z-Stuy returns to the roots of the genre where zombies stand as a metaphor for consumerism and twists it into a uniquely 21st century mold. The film is classy enough not to overtly state what it’s really about in the form of exposition, but at the same time it is not subtle about the point it’s making at all. In the span of fifteen minutes we see everything from a pair of well-to-do women wistfully prattling about baby goats, to seeing a Caucasian zombie directing two zombies-of-color who are carrying its possessions. Social commentary is often at its strongest when it shows the absurdity of a situation as-is while at the same time stopping just short of telling the viewer how to feel about it. For the most part, Z-Stuy succeeds in this regard.
Sha’nae’s performance is what truly makes the film work. She is imposing, intense, and likable all at the same time in the lead role. The end left me wanting to see more of her character and more of her as an actor. If there’s a flaw, it’s that the relationship with her character’s two best friends (played by Gallagher and Katie Goffman) wasn’t apparent at first. It felt like these were literally just two people that she grabbed off the street and only gradually did it become clear that they had been friends for some time. That’s a small issue, however, and the comedic interplay between all of the actors is terrific. The characters all become very memorable in the short time that we get to know them and for a film of its length, Z-Stuy is very quotable.
Overall, Z-Stuy is an admirable display of Gallagher’s talent as a filmmaker and Sha’nae’s talent as an actress. It is not subtle and some may find its message heavy-handed. But on some issues, nothing but a direct approach will do and Z-Stuy recognizes that. Message aside, it’s a film that leaves the viewer wanting more, both of the story and of the characters, and that is what entertaining filmmaking is all about.
Look for Z-Stuy to be available online for viewing sometime in 2018.