Directed by Brandon Christensen
Written by Brandon Christensen, Colin Minihan
Starring Keegan Connor Tracy, Jett Klyne, Sean Rogerson, Sara Canning, Stephen McHattie, Chandra West, Ali Webb, Deborah Ferguson, Deborah Ferguson, Fox Rose, Jayson Therrien, Sarah Munn, Grace Christensen, Kevin Doree, Blaine Schlechter, Gerrick Winston & Luke Moore as Z!
Mixing elements from DANIEL ISN’T THERE, THE ENTITY, THE PACT, and especially, THE BABADOOK, Brandon Christensen (who helmed the ghost baby haunter STILL/BORN) forges a solid story about twisted psyches and paranormal manifestations in Z.
Beleaguered housewife Beth (Keegan Connor Tracy) is coping with a mother on her deathbed, a husband who is hardly present (Sean Rogerson), and an ornery son Josh who is having major behavioral troubles at school. When he is suspended indefinitely, Josh creates an imaginary friend named Z to which be puts all of the blame on for his bad behavior. As Josh’s friendship with Z becomes stronger, it begins scaring Beth, so she reaches out to the family psychiatrist Dr. Seager (Stephen McHattie) who has vital information about Josh’s new friend that seems to have some kind of connection with Beth.
Z is a solid shocker with a multitude of legitimate jolts, jumps, and shocks. While the INSIDIOUS and CONJURING films seem to have used every creepy nighttime paranormal scenario in the book, Z manages to invent a few new frights that really deliver big. Filmmaker Christensen piles on quite a few of these scares one after another as the film delves into some heavy psychological and metaphysical issues that plague Beth and her family. It’s a big mess involving past trauma that really gives a real world edge to all of the paranormal stuff going on. Halfway through Z shifts gears from a typical paranormal phenomenon film to something much more psychologically complex. While normally, this would be where the film skids off the tracks, Z manages to stay the course. A lot of this has to do with a strong performance by lead actress Keegan Connor Tracy as Beth. There are moments where things get extremely nuts, but because director Christenson and actress Tracy take things seriously the scenes continue to work.
What frustrated me, though, was McHattie’s role as the psychiatrist. He’s called Doctor, so I imagine he is a man of science, but McHattie’s Dr. Seager seems to fully believe in the power of the paranormal. He embraces the fact that Z is a very real and dangerous entity. Instead of investigating as to whether Z is a symptom of an early onset of schizophrenia or depression, he leaps to the conclusion that Z is real. I think this plot hole could have been fixed with one line. Maybe when Beth takes Josh to Seager, someone calls him a quack or a witch doctor who has unconventional methods. That’s all I would have needed to believe in Dr. Seager’s actions. McHattie is always fantastic in any role he takes, but still, the character needed some reason for believing in Z so quickly and so fully.
I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but Christensen straddles the fence as to whether Z is a figment of a troubled mind or an actual paranormal entity. Again, I think this could have been fixed with a short scene about people creating evil entities by sheer force of will combined with their own trauma. It is hinted at, but I think Christensen plays it way too subtle and there needed to be some kind of explanation as to the origins of Z and how it came to be. It appears that Z might be the product of some kind of past sexual or physical abuse. I say this because the few times we see Z, he appears to be a lanky, naked, old man. But there is no mention of any incident like this in the narrative, so again, I think the horror would have been more powerful with an added scene hinting at something occurring in the past.
The look of Z is, as I said, disturbing. Only seen in well-paced blinks and creepy glimpses, it makes for an original looking and utterly imposing movie monster. On the surface, Z can be taken as a successful paranormal story. It’s not a ghost story, but something much more psychologically bent. Had there been a few elements fleshed out, it would have been a perfect scary film. As is, Z is still worth a recommendation for its strong performances, foreboding atmosphere, and electrifying fright sequences, but doesn’t go as deep and dark as I think it could have.