Project Z: A love letter to indie horror filmmaking

Project Z - Courtesy Dark Star Pictures
Project Z - Courtesy Dark Star Pictures /

It’s 1989. Somewhere in the Norwegian mountains, a student film crew struggles to complete an indie zombie movie. While Project Z is very much a horror movie, it’s also a comedy, drama, and most importantly, a love letter to indie filmmaking. Project Z is all kinds of fun, a genre mash-up that shows the talent and potential of its writer/director Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken.

The film begins with a young couple bickering before hitting the dog. The female lead, Rebecca (Iben Akerlie), whose actual name is Iben, enters the nearby Victorian hotel, hoping to find the owner of the dog. From there, zombies show up. However, a few minutes into the feature, we learn this is merely a scene in the student film. This is a movie within a movie.

Project Z isn’t really a zombie film. Instead, it’s a movie about the filmmaking process itself, including the challenges of working with a limited budget and a crew who has their own ideas of what the movie should look like and sound like. The director, Julie (Eili Harboe), believes her film is going to be high art. She has a supersized ego and concrete vision for her work and what she’s trying to accomplish, but this puts her in disagreement with some of the cast. In one funny scene, Iben argues that her character, Rebecca, shouldn’t have a threesome with two zombies because Rebecca is an ardent feminist. There are several other humorous sequences like this, where various cast members argue about the script, or a particular scene, or even the very title of the film itself, The Dead Awaken. Indeed, Project Z shows how filmmaking is a collaborative process, for better or worse.

Project Z
Project Z – Courtesy Dark Star Pictures /

In another sequence, a zombie quotes Kubrick, and like the famed director, Julie is keen to shoot scenes over and over again, until the actors are utterly tired and exhausted. I suspect that anyone into filmmaking, or cinema in general, will really get a kick out of this feature and its many references. It has the potential to find a wide audience. Project Z is a wild romp, with a running joke that Dennis Storhøi, a famous Norwegian actor, is going to play a transexual zombie. When he does show up, it’s a real treat. There’s also some gnarly zombie action, including one of the best uses of the song Swing Low, Sweet Chariot that I’ve ever seen in a film.

Project Z resembles films like One Cut of the Deadbut there’s also a clear influence from The Blair Witch Project, though far less shaky camera scenes. Yes, there are some horror elements here, but overall, Project Z is a mix of genres. It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s a horror film about indie filmmaking. I can’t wait to see what Dahlsbakken does next.

Project Z hits theaters and will have a physical release on November 3.

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