I think it’s time for something a little different around here, so we’re reaching into the backlog and grabbing out a gem of a movie to review that, well, strictly speaking it doesn’t feature Zombies.
I know, I know, but bear with me; it does tell a very interesting story about an individual who is quite Differently Animated.
By Her Hand, She Draws You Down is the latest film from Anthony Sumner, whose film anthology Slices of Life received a slightly mixed review from the ZRC. I am pleased to say that we had a chance to discuss our concerns with Mr. Sumner at The Dark Carnival (where we also saw By Her Hand) and he was most conciliatory on the issue of Zombie Rights. We had a chance to voice our concerns and rarely have we seen a creative person show such willingness to listen to constructive criticism.
By Her Hand, She Draws You Down (based on a story by Douglas Smith) stars Zoe Daelman Chlanda (who we’ve also recently seen in Hypochondriac) as Cath, a boardwalk portraiture artist with.. unusual needs (we’ll get to that) and Jerry Murdock as her partner Joe, and opens as Cath and Joe are setting up shop on a gloomy day at the beach, with Cath drawing portraits and Joe keeping watch. Watch for what? Well..
There are certain constraints in talking about the plot of a short film, and these constraints are chafing a bit here. Suffice it to say, Cath has certain special, shall we say, dietary requirements, and fulfills them through her work. Unfortunately, that requires her to prey upon her patrons. (The precise mechanism by which this occurs, I promise, is nothing you’ve ever seen before and legitimately disturbing) Joe is caught between his love for her and his growing revulsion over what she has to do to survive, along with a sneaking suspicion that her inability to completely control her hunger could lead to his own demise.
A couple of things really stand out about this film. One is how close to a two-man (person? actor?) play it feels; the story here isn’t about visceral scares or some abstract concept of monstrous-ness, but rather is about the death of trust and intimacy between two people who have been growing apart for a long time, even as they are bound together by tragedy and secrets.
The other thing that stuck with me is that the film avoids shallow moralizing against the Differently Animated, the Us vs Them thing that we see so often here at the ZRC in our work with Zombies. Cath does horrible things to survive, and Joe sticks with her out of love, guilt and obligation. Lesser films jump at the chance to demonize or dismiss their DA characters whose existence in any way impinges on that of ‘Normal’ people, but By Her Hand doesn’t give the audience a chance to summarily reject Cath and Joe in favor of the Normal people. This is their story, and good or bad, they’re recognized as human beings, individuals with thoughts and feelings, who are struggling through a very tough time.
The ending in particular calls into question the nature of this struggle, one that puts Cath against the nearly insurmountable drive we’re all given for survival, and the lengths to which we can go to try and run from our pasts and our pain, with questionable degrees of success. By Her Hand is reminiscent of the some of the best in independent horror film to explore this territory; if I had to explain it in the old ‘If you liked X, see Y’, standard, X would probably be Let the Right One In, which should tell you how much I liked By Her Hand.
Though not strictly about Zombies, for its emotionally honest and open portrayal of the struggles of those who may, through no fault of their own, be the bearers of certain instincts that place them into conflict with larger Living society, the ZRC gives By Her Hand, She Draws You Down a Zombie Tolerant rating.
See it if you have the chance, you won’t be disappointed.