While Jake’s parents, Jules (Brooke Bloom) and Peter (Sean Bridgers), argue and gradually split from each other, Jake (Anthony DeMarco) has his own battle ahead with the zombie in his closet. Dillon (Matthew Josten), an acquaintance older than his six-year-old self and in the third grade, arms him with Zombie FAQs off the Internet, which inform him what’s needed to kill a zombie, how fast they move, and what they eat when they’re hungry.
But this zombie (Emerson David) is different than the ones we know. It’s a zombie that appears to people like Jake, like myself, in despair. I didn’t have the imagination that Jake had when I was his age, so no zombie, but I felt something was off between my parents. In one scene, Jake asks Peter if being super-good will get him to come home. Jules and Peter are already going through a lot, and as it is with any domestic conflicts, the origins of this one aren’t known, but it must have been developing for a long time. I didn’t ask Jake’s questions because I was trying to figure out on my own what was going on. As long as you keep going to school, keep coming home, keep watching whatever’s on TV, the cycle can’t be broken, right? It’s a comfortable cycle.
When I was 11, the version of my zombie became more prominent when I became more aware of my parents’ squabbles. The raised voices, the times when the fights seemed like they would go on for days; the only thing you could do is find your own way to live through it. With Jake it’s his zombie and it must be destroyed. If it’s destroyed, then everything should go back to normal, right? His parents will stop fighting and tranquility will come over the house again, right?
There are no concrete answers. During a lot of those fights, as I progressed into my teen years, I wondered what type of string was holding my parents together. There were such bad days and then, they stopped. Just like if you turn out a light. I’m older now and they’re still together, and they still differ a lot from each other, and I still wonder what those fights were created from, but now they’re more mellow. Now life is starting to be figured out. Those years they lost through their conflicts and conflicts I’m sure before I was born remain lost and there’s still regret over those. It’s the same with Jules and Peter as well as Ruth (Monette Magrath), Dillon’s mom, and Jake’s babysitter, Mrs. Bender (Barbara Gruen). Mrs. Bender’s actually the more darkly comedic of any of the characters and there’s nothing to really find in her that could explain her. She drinks, she’s nasty to Jake, she scream-asks where the vanilla extract is. She’s the kind of person that Jules would worry about becoming, if she saw Mrs. Bender beyond that of being a babysitter.
But Jules is confused and broken, and Peter, for the time he’s onscreen, is confused and broken, and Ruth is likely more broken than either of them. In trying to get over Peter leaving like he has, Jules answers the door and finds Sam Stone (Ben Bode), a real estate man, and someone to use to recover from Peter. It’s strange, the things we do to recover from what hurts us, but that’s what she has. Writer/director Shelli Ryan makes this one of the biggest points in thinking about these characters and with Ruth, who in another film might not be cared about so much by her creator, she’s a bitch to Jake, telling him that her son Dillon is better than he is and not to forget it. When Jake asks her why she’s at their house so much, she slaps him. And it’s something to wonder about at first because here Jules is, at this low point, and Ruth tries to help her, encouraging her to get a lawyer, to do what will make her more powerful than Peter could look in court. Ryan makes her a real person with her conversation over the phone with her husband. It’s not a happy household there either.
This naked honesty by Ryan and this immensely talented cast in their performances, is impetus enough to hope for more. Seeing me in Jake, it’s not a pleasant set of memories, but we need to look back into the past occasionally, to know what we are right now and Ryan’s talent is doing exactly that. When Ryan makes another film, I’ll be there. And hopefully others who see this one will be there too.