Brandon Christensen’s sophomore effort, simply titled Z, doubles down on parental nightmares. His first film, Still/Born, dealt with the horrors of postpartum depression and grief. Now he turns his attention to another horrifying occurrence: your kids going to school and bringing new ideas and concepts into the home.
The setup is familiar enough. Little Joshua Parsons (Jeff Klyne) has a new imaginary friend, the eponymous ‘Z’. His parents, Beth (Keegan Connor Tracey) and Kevin (Sean Rogerson), play along for awhile. But soon, Josh starts blaming very dangerous behavior on Z, stressing an already troubled marriage. Of course, Z turns out to have a sinister agenda with connections that run much deeper than expected.
Tracy (Final Destination 2) carries the movie, as Beth’s relationships with Josh, husband Kevin, and sister Jenna (Sara Canning) form the heart of the movie. The script asks a lot from Tracy, as her character ends up isolated from her family, forced to interact with Z herself. While struggling to figure out what the entity wants with her and her family, she displays an impressive amount of poise and confidence.
When he does ultimately make an appearance, Luke Moore brings Z to life with a creepy, boyish energy. Through mostly practical effects and good, old fashioned creepy face acting, Moore appears simultaneously child-like and eerily lustful, which just makes the whole thing all the more unsettling. Overall, Christensen proves once again that he knows how to set up an effective scare. With combinations of tension building, unnatural visuals, and even dialogue cues, he manages to deliver moments more shocking than any “torture porn” Eli Roth might dream up.
Like many horror movies, Z is not without its own plot contrivances. Viewers who just want to pick apart character knowledge, decisions, and motivations may raise an eyebrow here or there. However, these narrative devices serve the pacing and themes of the story. Given how strong these elements are, I personally find these complaints to be relatively minor.
Overall, Christensen skillfully illustrates the outright terror of being a parent, while working in themes of generational fear and the cyclical nature of trauma. As the film opens, sisters Beth and Jenna must take care of their elderly mother. By the end, that subplot comes full circle, as one of the sisters end up as caretaker for the other.
Z is available beginning September 1, 2020, on Blu Ray, DVD and digital platforms. The Digital HD release will include an iTunes Extras package that features an audio commentary with director Brandon Christensen, Behind-The-Scenes interviews with the cast and crew, never-before-seen deleted scenes and outtakes, and an insider’s look at the music, the incredible VFX, shooting with an actual train and how the filmmakers achieved the notorious “Stair Scare.”