It should go without saying that my expectations for a movie about zombie zoo animals were pretty low, but one of the joys of being a horror fan of color is watching a random little flick like this and realizing the hero is actually someone who looks like you. Suck it, Ian Ziering.
In the case of Zoombies, which comes from The Asylum, the company that brought you the Sharknado films, the heroine is Lizzy (played by British actress Ione Butler, a Samantha Mumba type with less menacing eyebrows). She’s a newly hired security expert at the state-of-the-art Eden Wildlife Zoo, which is prepping to open for business when a viral strain begins turning all the animals into rampaging man-eaters — even traditional herbivores like giraffes and koalas. Although this isn’t one of The Asylum’s notorious “mockbuster” ripoffs (see Snakes on a Train or Transmorphers), the setup is basically Jurassic World, with Lizzy playing Chris Pratt’s role and zoo director Dr. Ellen Rogers (Kim Nielsen) being Bryce Dallas Howard.
As such, Lizzy is on the front lines of the killer animal invasion, triggered by an experimental serum injected into a dying monkey by zoo vet Dr. Gordon (Noa Pharaoh, also black) for reasons that appear to have been left on the cutting room floor. Lizzy fights alongside head of security Rex (Marcus Anderson), who, believe it or not, is also black! Is Zoombies trying for a NAACP Image Award or something? Because it’s got my vote.
Zoombies is actually one of the most racially diverse “non-ethnic” horror movies in recent memory, with not only the three black characters, but also a couple of Asians and a couple of (I believe) Pacific Islanders in substantial roles (granted, they pretty much all die).
For a while, I dared to dream that the two attractive black hero types would walk into the sunset together, but Rex, with a broken leg and a zombie gorilla bearing down on them, decides it’s time for the ol’ heroic death. I suppose it’s a sign of progress when a black character sacrifices himself for another black character.
As is fairly typical of black female characters in horror (or any genre, frankly), Lizzy’s viability as a love interest is downplayed (despite her Lara Croft cosplay outfit). She’s a hard-nosed, all-business type who doesn’t let anyone get near her. In Hollywood’s eyes, if a black woman isn’t a seductress, she may as well be asexual.
On the bright side, she saves the day, blowing up the aviary full of infected animals, and lives to fight again — despite two separate instances of her willingness to die heroically to save Ellen and her daughter. (Ellen returns the favor by setting the building on fire with Lizzy still inside. Thanks, lady.)
As far as SyFy-level rampaging animal movies go, Zoombies is more entertaining than most — and not just because of its United Colors of Benetton inclusiveness. It’s fast-paced with ample action sequences, solid gore and an inherent camp appeal (aided by some near-Birdemic CGI effects) that doesn’t try too hard like the increasingly desperate Sharknado films.