Project Z Brings Terrifying Movie Monsters to Life

Image provided by Dark Star Pictures

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with zombie movies. On the one hand, the subgenre tends to be very homogenous, and in my opinion, that gets boring very quickly. But on the other hand, zombies themselves are just super cool, so when they’re done right, they can be an absolute joy to watch. Because of that ambivalence, I tend to gravitate toward films that break the typical zombie mold, so when I heard about Project Z, I knew I had to check it out. While its premise isn’t entirely original, it’s different enough that I hoped it would be one of the good ones. I requested a screener as soon as I could, and when I finally pressed play on it, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Project Z was directed by Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken, and it stars Eili Harboe, Regina Tucker, Vebjorn Enger, Jonis Jesf, Iben Akerlie, and Arthur Berning. It’s a found-footage movie about a film crew that travels to the mountains of Norway to make a zombie flick, and after a mysterious asteroid crashes nearby, the line between movies and real life starts to blur in a deadly way.

If you’re a horror aficionado, that plot synopsis might sound familiar. It’s basically the premise of One Cut of the Dead, but there’s a twist. Or, more accurately, this time there is no twist. One Cut of the Dead changes gears dramatically at around the half-hour mark, but Project Z remains a zombie movie the whole way through. What you see is what you get, so despite the surface-level similarity, these two films are actually very different.

For the first 30 minutes or so, I had a really good time with Project Z. This part of the movie goes pretty light on the horror, but the characters are good enough that you don’t need any scares. Everybody in this film is completely believable, so I had no trouble at all immersing myself in their story.

A woman looking scared
Image provided by Dark Star Pictures

Those fun characters carried the movie for the first half hour, but soon after that, their charm began to wear off. As much as I enjoyed this ensemble as a whole, nobody in it stood out to me as particularly likable or relatable, and that was the film’s downfall. It was definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, but unfortunately, even that whole wasn’t enough to sustain an entire 90-minute feature.

See, Project Z doesn’t give us any real horror until about the one-hour mark. Up until then, all we get is bits and pieces of the movie these characters are making. Now, to be fair, several of those scenes are actually quite good. Director Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken does an excellent job of using some spooky settings to create a really fun atmosphere, and the zombies are top-notch. Everything about them, from their makeup to their movements, is totally on point, so at times, I found myself wishing I could see this film instead of the movie I was actually watching.

However, despite the obvious genre chops on display here, those moments didn’t quite satisfy my hunger for horror. Because I knew they were just scenes from a film, not real life (at least, in the world of Project Z), I was never able to fully get into them. They had an almost sterile feel that kept them from having any real emotional impact, so I was left thirsting for some genuine scares.

And unfortunately, Project Z simply made me wait too long to quench that thirst. As I said, the characters’ charm eventually wore off, and by the time the horror finally hit, I had simply checked out emotionally. I no longer cared about these people or the terrors they were experiencing, so the final 20-30 minutes felt more like visual noise than anything else.

Zombies looking scary
Image provided by Dark Star Pictures

That being said, I do have to acknowledge that on its own terms, the last act of this movie is actually pretty good. Once again, director Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken does a fantastic job with the atmosphere and the monsters, and he also shows a real talent for slowly building up tension and then releasing it in really impactful ways.

What’s more, I also appreciated that the zombies in this film aren’t just the same old Romero rip-offs we normally get from this subgenre. Granted, they’re not super different from your typical undead flesh-eaters, but they’re just unique enough that the horror feels a bit fresher than you might expect.

In fact, there were a few moments during the final act of Project Z when I thought the awesome horror would actually outweigh my problems with the first hour of the movie, but every time that happened, the film eventually reminded me that I simply didn’t care one lick about these people. It would always switch back to a quieter character moment soon enough, and my interest in the story would drop back down to zero.

It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster (and not the good kind!), but when the credits began to roll, I knew exactly where I stood. Project Z simply didn’t do it for me, so I’m sad to say that I wouldn’t recommend it. Sure, it has its moments, especially in the last 20-30 minutes, but on the whole, the lack of any genuinely likable characters does this movie in and overshadows everything it gets right.

Project Z is set to release digitally and in theaters on November 3.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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