A new product on the market sounds like a husband’s or boyfriend’s wildest dream. HAPi Water is a “100% natural herbal remedy for women”—combination flavored water and, apparently, a heady mix of Prozac and Summer’s Eve. Supposedly, it makes even the bitchiest girlfriend skip merrily and fancy free. Of course, the stuff also turns them into ravenous zombies. In the movie universe, doesn’t everything?
After leaving a spokeswoman twitching and foaming in the parking lot, the movie introduces us to Zach (Alex Hammel-Shaver)—a carefree gamer, “real man” and psycho-chick magnet (who must ejaculate chocolate vodka for the amount of ex- and future-girlfriends he has)—and his “bitchy” girlfriend Felecia (Kendall Valerio). She comes home out of the pouring rain with some bug up her a*s about the house being a wreck and Zach being a terrible person. Since she’s right, it’s hard to find fault with her when she kicks him out.
At the local watering hole, all of his friends—including Zach Galifinakis lookalike, Dan (Scott Keebler)—regale in flashback memories of at least a half-dozen of Zach’s most lunatic ex-girlfriends. This rogue’s gallery, each intro- and outro-duced with a clever effect or edit, include “Six Shooter Shelly” (Danielle Rothman) who’d already had six kids and punched holes in condoms in order to marinate a seventh; Debbie (Lisa Paone) the older girl who wanted to con Zach into marriage; Psycho Alice (Kaylea Ruppel) the texting stalker; angry Wiccan poet Jolene (Gabrielle Martinez—“Tell the audience where you’re from, Jolene.” – “None of your business!”) and Monica (Jessica Sullivan) who… sucks lollipops (the w***e!).
In the wake of all these disasters is geek girl Lilly (a wonderful Madison Hart) who allows herself to be bullied by the entire world, including inanimate objects, but in her mind she’s a martial-arts anime master who can throw balls of lightning and scare off the biggest guys with a simple thrust of her chin. Zach acknowledges her presence because she’s his bestest, non-threatening, friend-who’s-a-girl. Lilly doesn’t get along with Dan because he’s a selfish, filthy drunken oaf who greets her with “D**e,” plus he always manages to cockblock her with Zach.
As a favor to Zach, Dan enters him to be a contestant on the new DATING GAMESHOW, forgetting to add that he also listed the majority of Zach’s psycho exes to the list of opposing contestants. Wackiness ensues on the set when the girls, all high on HAPi Water and low on self-esteem, discover that they all dated Zach and begin to brawl over who loves him best. The brawl turns bloody and soon the studio audience is dragged into the mix as the HAPi Water gets everyone’s inner carnivore going. This is no less plausible than the idea that Zach, who so far has displayed all the charisma of a paper cup, has women falling over him. In fact, the zombie thing is more believable.
But something funny happens during this first act twist: a very entertaining movie is unleashed upon the unsuspecting viewer. Once the film becomes the goofball buddy-pic / true-love story, Zombie eXs shakes itself free of the awkward and amateurish first ten minutes and transforms into something of substance. Zach goes from douchebag to loveable meathead in a matter of seconds and his interactions with the obnoxious (but (hopefully) loveable) Dan allows us to see a lifelong friendship between the two guys. Yes, they’re cut from the Pegg-Frost cloth from Shaun of the Dead, but their relationship is as genuine and inexplicable as real friendships are. Even when he’s armed with but a dust pan and a whisk broom, vaguely aware of the danger, Dan still has Zach’s back.
But not as much so as Lilly. Outside of Zach, she’s a meek, beaten little wreck, abused by bosses and co-workers, empowered only in her fantasies (which are so entertaining that when she finally does find her Real Inner Lilly, her showdown with an office mate is actually anticlimactic). And she figures out what role she’s playing early on in the film, realizing if she can help Zach out of this jam, she can be his long-last “real thing” girlfriend.
Finally, the band of never-ending undying exes becomes a highly-entertaining running gag which director Smith (with co-writer Cohen) manage to sustain and keep fresh through the majority of the film. The evil exes are led by Debbie, who dons a bloody wedding gown, and pursue Zach like bloodthirsty groupies. As she attempts to gnaw off Dan’s leg, Crybaby Irene (Brandy Bryant) shrieks, “Dan, tell Zach I love him! Tell him!” Zach’s reactions become priceless as even he wonders why he dated some of these girls. Each time he thinks he’s killed off Debbie, he rounds a corner and there she is. “Aw, god! Not you again!” If not quite gold, there is gleeful, bloody comedy brass to be had.
Since it’s an independent horror film, you know what to expect: uneven pace, just-passable acting and a lot of gore. But get used to it and delight in a number of fun video game/cartoon/comic book CGI effects. For example, when each Ex finally goes down, she’s given her own animated title card—a farewell rather than an introduction. Seeing that the nasty co-worker is still hanging half in of a tenth-story window, Lilly’s choice to target him with a bazooka is a high five to Video Copilot and gives way to one of the film’s funniest lines. “What?” asks Lilly after the explosion. “It wasn’t really that hard. See? The directions are right here on the barrel.”
Indie filmmakers, particularly in the horror realm, wear their hearts and influences on their sleeves. While it’s impossible to say exactly what got Smith and Cohen and friends together, I could make an educated guess that this film is equal parts Shaun of the Dead, The Hangover and a soupçon of Scott Pilgrim. What the cast may lack in acting chops, they make up for in enthusiasm, putting some Disney Channel regulars to shame with their line lobbing.
The actresses are the stars of the film, particularly Hart as Lilly, Paone as Debbie and Valerio as Felecia. All three have terrific timing and they really bring their characters to life, both living and undead. (Hart, in particular, deserves a cookie for her multi-faceted creation of Lilly, raising her far above geek stereotype in every scene.) At the beginning of the film, you wish nearly every character would die so they could shuttle in characters from another movie. By the end, you’re even rooting for the exes. Everyone deserves happiness in the end (though, wisely, the movie doesn’t go in either direction that you’d guess, so thumbs up to Smith and Cohen).
Interestingly, the movie gradually reveals that it’s skewering the “fratboy” mentality of both Hollywood comedies and other indies, where the borderline-misogynistic heroes are borderline-useless without a capable woman. For all the farting and grunting and dick jokes, they’re just looking for love like everyone else. They just don’t want to work to hard to find it.
I’d also like to make special mention of the film’s sound. Obviously plagued with set-noise, the filmmakers had the actors rerecord nearly all of their dialogue, so we get a very clean (if occasionally loud or echoey) dialogue track above a playful sound design and music track. This indicates not only a filmmaking team that went in smart, but also learned as they went along, giving the movie, after the first few frustrating minutes, a whip-crack pace and a gaggle of editing tricks that almost become their own characters.