Sam & Mattie Make A Zombie Movie

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Sam & Mattie Make A Zombie Movie
"This is a documentary full of natural comedy and warmth, but it's also interesting as a take on the filmmaking process."

You may think that you've heard heart-warming stories like this before. Two teenagers with Down syndrome dream of making a movie, so their town rallies behind them and lots of people volunteer to help make their dream come true. In this case, however, the outcome is a little different. Sam and Mattie want to make a movie full of hot women, extreme violence, zombies, devils, zombie devils and "questionable" scenes.

As a rule, people with Down syndrome get by in life by being quiet and friendly and going under the radar. Sam and Mattie, best friends who see (and cast) themselves as brothers, have no interest in living life that way. They've made a number of films before, taking on challenges and suchlike to win fans on the internet. They're both lively and extroverted, determined to live life to the full, and they're tremendously creative. Although they don't have the skills to write a script themselves, they create a very vivid storyboard jam-packed with ideas. They also prove adept at haggling over what can and cannot be compromised on for budgetary reasons, and at winning over sponsors, with their confidence and passion for the project at least as much of a selling point as any sympathy people might have because of their difference.

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Directors Jesse Suchmann (Sam's brother) and Robert Carnevale spend the first part of this film taking us through the filmmaking process. In the second - with a few short breaks for further explanation - we get to see Spring Break Zombie Massacre itself. It's a lot more fun than much of the zombie fare that comes my way as a critic, and combines the strangeness of the best trash cinema with an energy which Sam and Mattie trace back to the likes of Wayne's World. Both teens acquit themselves pretty well, with Mattie displaying a gift for comic timing. There's a celebrity cameo from Paul 'Pauly D' DelVecchio and great work from special effects wizards Shane Morton and 'Puppet' Chris Brown, who strike just the right balance between high quality facsimiles and light and splatter shows. Although our heroes have been firmly instructed to keep it PG-13, there's also plenty of opportunity for Mattie to position himself as a babe magnet, including a student-teach relationship which undoubtedly achieves the sought-after questionable status.

This is a documentary full of natural comedy and warmth, but it's also interesting as a take on the filmmaking process, with our heroes' poor understanding of limits (or sly unwillingness to acknowledge them) pushing their team to come up with ingenious solutions. Film sets are high pressure environments and not easy places for anyone to keep control of their emotions, so the teens' parents are impressed by how they manage theirs, and the coping strategies at work are illuminating. If there's one area where the team doesn't do so well, it's with distribution, and though the film gets fantastic support from the media (there's a great sequence with TV presenter Conan O'Brien), it seems to have entirely the wrong festival strategy. One hopes that filmmakers will notice this film, if not that one, and consider casting these guys, because stereotypes around people with Down syndrome have changed little in the past four decades and Sam and Mattie take a sledgehammer to them. Watching them will remind you why, when most films struggle to break even, so many people still love to make them.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2021
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Two teenagers with Down Syndrome escape their social isolation by convincing the entire state of Rhode Island to help them make a rather questionable zombie movie.

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