The Zeme caught my eye with a poster that looks like the cover of an 80s horror paperback. Unfortunately, it opens like a philosophy text with a narrator talking about how the land, or the zeme if you prefer, has always been and always will be. And how it’s ready to make those who try to exploit it pay the ultimate penalty.
And that penalty might be to be in the truck with Erie (Nick Preston, The Haunting of Bly Manor) his wife Kit (Shenandoah Adams, Swamper) and daughter Alysha (Alysha Bindra) as they drive through the forests of British Columbia snapping at each other. Erie is a developer who just lost a pile of cash on a project gone bad. So he’s moving the family out to a remote island to launch a new project.
It doesn’t take long before both Kit and Alysha start seeing ghosts of a woman, child and old man. Erie sees nothing and refuses to believe them. He also refuses to believe warnings about the land he wants to build on being cursed. And, of course, he refuses to leave the island.
Writer/director Goldie Dhillon lays the cliches on thick and with a total lack of anything approaching subtlety. The island is called Hell’n’view. The first resident they encounter, Rusty (Malcolm Mcsporran) tells Erie he could fix his truck but he won’t because he doesn’t like outsiders. On seeing Alysha he exclaims “A child? You brought a child to Hell’n’view?”
Voices? Strange animalistic noises? Dry ground soaking up blood? The Zeme has all of them as well and we’re still in the first half-hour.
This is intercut with scenes of some loser getting thrown out of a bar and driving around in a white van. We will eventually find he’s a psychic named Alphonse (Phil Trasolini, The Horror Seasons, The Big Bank Theory). He and Kit were once an item so instead of calling Ghostbusters, she calls him.
Between the poor script, poorly staged ghostly attacks and a cast that seems to have had their dialogue dubbed in The Zeme isn’t scary. And the comic relief scenes of Alphonse driving around smoking a joint while he screams “Fuck you!” at trains aren’t even remotely funny. It’s all one giant mess that feels like it was made by someone with no clue how to make a film.
This is compounded by some incredibly heavy-handed dialogue about the evil American white man and his crimes against the land and its original inhabitants. If you want this to be effective you have to work it into the script organically, not hit the audience over the head with a wall of dialogue that feels shoehorned in. See Don’t Say Its Name or Blood Quantum for better examples of horror films rooted in indigenous issues.
To its credit, The Zeme does have some beautiful photography and a nice score. And Kit telling the detective “He was right, cops here really don’t do shit” got a laugh from me. But that’s far from enough to save it. By the time Erie is killed and comes back as a murderous creature and Alysha vanishes you won’t care if she gets found, or if you find out just what’s going on.
Nuclear Productions, the company that made The Zeme has a background in films for the Punjabi market which I’m a bit clueless about. Possibly this would go over well there, but it certainly isn’t what North American audiences are looking for in a horror movie. The Zeme is available on Amazon Prime, you can check the Nuclear Productions Facebook page for more information.