Hot Docs 2014: Doc of the Dead Review
With the seemingly never-ending fascination with zombies and with the saturation of it into mainstream pop culture, Doc of the Dead seeks to examine just what makes this form of entertainment so enduring and attempts to answer the question “Could a real zombie apocalypse happen and if so, what does one do to survive it?”
In this love letter to the genre, director Alexandre Philippe assembles a range of masters and experts of zombie culture, including George A. Romero, Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell, and Robert Kirkland, to discuss the evolution of the monster and why it continues to increase in popularity. The film discusses the potential origins of the zombie-like creature in African and Haitian lore, the origins of zombies in early Hollywood films as metaphors for slavery, and the evolution over the years of the characteristics of how zombies behave. The film also poses the question of is there a scientific possibility of a real zombie outbreak happening and what should one do to prepare?
The idea of the zombie being can be traced to two sources. It has roots in African voodoo and Haitian lore. Some believe there are references to Tetrodotoxin, a poison that can make a human appear dead by slowing down the internal systems. Funerals and burials could be had and then the person could be dug back up and essentially be kept as a slave by being continually sedated. This would give them a zombie-like appearance. There are also references to an African lore word “Nzumbie” which basically means “undead slave”, which could be the origin of the word.
The filmmakers have interviewed many experts in this field and they discuss how the early Hollywood zombie films were basically metaphors for slavery, usually featuring black men as the zombie slave, the exponential influence George A. Romero had on the genre, and the influences his work has on creators today. Essentially, the conclusion the team came to was that the reason the zombie has continued to remain popular is because the mythos behind it can easily be adapted to suit current times. They can easily become representative of what the current modern day “fear” happens to be.
The film also discusses possible scientific explanations of what a real zombie outbreak might look like or be caused from. There is always the possibility of a new disease emerging that has jumped from one animal species to mammals that has the potential of having a brain-altering effect such as Mad Cow Disease or Rabies. This could create conditions similar to fictional zombie outbreaks. “How to prepare for this” you might ask? The filmmakers have also interviewed owners of zombie training camps and survival equipment to get an understanding of what it would take to survive.
The film covers a wide range of topics on this phenomenon and is fun for any fans of the genre, but at times does not feel like there is enough depth, explanation, or evidence to back up the arguments being presented. There are moments when the filmmakers have only scratched the surface of what is behind the popularity and several of the “experts” as well, don’t have the authority or authenticity to make the information they are presenting valid. The larger feeling the viewer may come away with is that this is a “fluff” piece and the overall film suffers for it.