STUDIO: R Squared Films
MSRP: $19.98
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
• “Pathogen” (full feature)
• “Pathogen” Premiere Q & A
• Behind the Scenes look at Emily’s Second Feature: “The Retelling”
• Interview with Emily
• Theatrical Trailer

The Pitch

This crazy middle-schooler in Austin has decided to make her own full-length zombie movie! Let’s watch (and possibly learn a thing or two).

The Humans

Emily Hagins and family, Rose Kent-McGlew, Alex Herskowitz, Tiger Darrow

I mean… damn, son.  Damn.

The Nutshell

The sound is bad, the continuity is atrocious, but Emily Hagins made a feature-length movie when she was twelve.  What did you make when you were twelve, lazy-ass?

Somehow, Emily Hagins was born with much creative urge but little delusion of grandeur – a combination not often seen in nature. After a series of fortuitous events (including her parents moving to Austin when she was a baby) land her a temporary position as a production assistant on an indie film crew, she decides to direct a feature length zombie film based on her own screenplay.  Unlike most unproduced scripts that seem to have been written by a ten-year-old… this one was written by a ten-year-old, and it’s called Pathogen.

Even at her young age, Emily has mastered the use of some equipment that Paul Greengrass struggles with – namely, the tripod.

Production begins on weekends and holidays with a crew of several and a cast plucked from the available. Understandably, momentum during production ebbs and flows (Emily’s full-time-employed mother acts as a driver, producer and boom operator) but like its characters, Pathogen refuses to die.

The Lowdown

If you have ever wanted to make a movie, Zombie Girl: The Movie should be part of your curriculum (along with Lost in La Mancha and American Movie). Afterward, if you aren’t invigorated to work on your project, then you should probably reconsider. If, like Emily, you want to make a movie because you can’t comprehend the concept of not making it, then you are in good shape.

If Tim Burton had drawn this, it would be at MOMA right now.

Directors Justin Johnson, Aaron Marshall, and Erik Mauck wisely avoid painting Emily as a prodigy or even promoting her as particularly gifted (while presenting plenty of evidence with which that conclusion can be drawn).  The specialty that she posesses is the drive to finish her project, and more importantly, the wisdom to walk away from it when it’s completed (during her proclamation to do so, she gets in a sideways jab at George Lucas’ aftermarket meddling).

This rare still from the set of My Girl 3 sheds a little light on Anna Chlumsky’s sabbatical.

Along the way, standard problems arise. Actors don’t know lines, scheduling is difficult, sound issues are abundant and extras are not. Emily meets most of these problems head-on, owns up to her mistakes and thinks on her feet to remedy them.  She’s not always successful, but there are few moments in which she seems to exhibit defeat. On of those moments occurs late in the film in which she commits a heart-breaking error that reminds us that she is twelve, after all.

Her parents are certainly helpful, but Emily is the captain of this ship. While Dad is admirably involved, he is focused on less than Emily’s mother. The full breadth of Mom’s motives, expectations and relationship with Emily are intentionally witheld until act three. This not only makes for a more interesting narrative (I changed my mind about her several times in 90 minutes) but allows the movie to close on themes of family and perserverence as opposed to public or critical reaction to Pathogen itself.  The finished product is on this disc, so that you can judge it for yourself. The story, and possible lesson, to be found here is one of diligence. Completing a coherent movie is a substantial accomplishment at any age, and often a thankless one.

Beat that shit, Goosebumps!

Of course, this film isn’t really about some 12-year-old girl making a zombie movie; it is about a 12-year-old girl making a zombie movie while being championed by geek demigods (Harry Knowles and Peter Jackson gently point her in the right direction) and followed by a documentary team. While the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is at play here, there is no evidence of direct involvement or mentoring by the better-equipped filmmakers (Emily uses a standard-def Sony Handicam and available light). I was also pleased with the directors’ light touch in avoiding trying to find a villain here, or weave a conflict out of the ether with clever editing.

Zombie Girl: The Movie may be aiming lower than many documentaries.  It won’t change the way you eat.  It won’t change who you vote for. It won’t make you sad for people in other countries.  It will, however, make you question how judiciously you are spending your idle time – hardly a petty accomplishment.

“I can’t buy smokes yet, but I’ve already made almost as many watchable movies as Terrence Malick!”

The Package

While the inherent style and presentation of the feature are not earth-shattering (though the imperiled dolls titles were a nice touch throughout), this disc is well-produced and loaded with everything you would want, beginning with the inclusion of Pathogen. The Q&A from Pathogen’s premiere is here as well. A recent interview with Emily is included to both assure you that she didn’t get filmmaking out of her system and that you are getting old, you old bastard (SPOILER: She’s a grown up now).

8.0 out of 10