(I was going to try to incorporate my overall view on the film within the title, but it got too damn long; sorry about the resultant bland one.)
Super Brainy Zombies (SBZ) is a short film created by Irish YouTuber Hazel Hayes, known as ChewingSand, that details the adventure of a group of YouTuber friends who attempt to film a zombie movie, only to be interrupted by a real zombie attack. The piece is largely excellent, being darkly funny and balancing the underpinning question, of how far we will go to achieve fame, against solid fight scenes and an all-star cast of British YouTubers, making this one of the most complete films to come out of British YouTube that I’ve ever seen.
However, the film is not perfect: I find that there is a problematic divide between the universality of the struggle between fame and integrity, and the narrow field of actors: essentially, why should a debate applicable to anyone who creates anything be presented by the same twenty-odd faces we’ve seen on YouTube for the last five years or so?
That being said, the film is still brilliant: it is one of the funniest films I’ve seen relative to its subject matter. It’s not a comedy, but lines like ‘It’s not the producer who figures out the best time to escape, not the star, and certainly not the f**king director, but a f**king extra!’ lighten the otherwise gloomy overtones of having to brutally slaughter your friends or be eaten alive, and help keep the film relevant to its characters: popular British YouTube was built on being funny, so comedic bits like this are always relevant.
The humour also fits the violent plot: you’ll notice two uses of the F-word in that line, forcing me into the inevitable decision of how to show said word on this ‘f**k’-free blog, but it fits with the general desperation and fear of the film. I’ve said before that swearing is an expression of an extreme emotional response, and the genuinely hard-hitting scenes of characters having their intestines eaten before a camera would provoke such a response.
Furthermore, the jokes fit with the characters; despite my quibble about the limited range of actors, the characters are exaggerated versions of their, already-caricaturised, personas they present on the internet; Jack’s line about being ‘a bunch of amateur filmmakers. And me.’ fits with his established role in the world of British YouTube as an arrogant arse. On comedy at least, Hazel’s decision to use already well-established characters works very well.
Jack and Hazel’s discussion of the question of fame at the end of the film, a year after the event, was awesome, suggesting that we can only ever judge if our actions were the rights ones well after those actions have been taken. Lisa’s question ‘What will you say to Charlie’s family, at tonight’s memorial dinner?’, and the fact that the film continued in the present day for a full scene towards the end, suggests that there is as much to be gained from evaluating these decisions as there is to make them. The combination of these ideas means that we’re re-living events as vividly as we lived them the first time, although now we are pitifully unable to act differently, and know the potentially painful consequences that lie in wait; and it’s this sort of complexity that sets the film apart from other short films I’ve seen on the site.
The question itself was very thoughtful too: Ben was set up as the ‘integrity’ answer, and Jack as the ‘fame’ side; Hazel’s decision to follow the latter shows the importance and agony of choice, that sometimes we must choose between two attractive options, and hurt people in the process. The fact that Hazel hurts herself at the end of the film was a brutal reminder of the earlier physical destruction, and also suggests that there can be no gain to be made when questions like this are asked, and answers like that are chosen.
Fame versus integrity is also more broadly relevant to British YouTube in general; the culture is at a crossroads, caught between the ‘loser-alone-in-their-bedroom’ style of videos that started it all, and the extravagant American model of corporate backing to maximise creative and economic potential, seen in series such as the frankly superb Epic Rap Battles of History.
This question was explored in episode four of Ben Cook’s Becoming YouTube series, and that piece failed to reach a conclusion, I feel because we can’t say what will happen in the future, leaving us to focus on developing ourselves now, and letting the future sort itself out. However, SBZ argues that the choice is almost irrelevant, as people will be hurt either way: within the film, if Hazel saves Ben, Jack could be killed while he waits, and Lisa’s question about Charlie could be rendered equally as powerful by asking about Jack’s family.
Similarly outside of the film, blowing British YouTube up to American proportions would lead to much more cash to produce films like this, and God knows we’ve got the creators to use that cash, but we lose the closeness and personality that has characterised the genre on this side of the Pond. Equally, rejecting commercialisation could deprive a generation of filmmakers from the means they need to create something truly wonderful, for some vague ‘closeness’ with a bunch of anonymous strangers who live a hundred thousand miles away. It’s a tough choice, and SBZ reflects the difficulty and pain of such decisions.
The film is flawed though: the near-exclusive use of popular YouTubers makes this seemingly universal question, that will impact a generation of content creators and consumers, answerable only by the ‘f**king YouTube digerati’, as Ben Cook put it. This seems like a film by YouTubers, for YouTubers, which is fine if you know about the characters and what they stand for, but I’d imagine the events would be less powerful if you didn’t watch British YouTube. Hazel even uses these individuals for no reason other than to have them be there: Michael Stevens from Vsauce appears, not to portray an exaggerated version of himself to add to the final question, as Jack does, but just for the Hell of it, even saying ‘I’m not sure why I’m here’.
There are a number of minor problems too: the fight scenes are fun, but occasionally too bland, involving endless pushing back and forth for a bit; the opening minute is dull and appears formulaic (although this formula is cleverly undone later); the special effects aren’t great, especially at 13:29 when the sword through the zombie is obviously fake; and Chris’s explosion of the house seemed like a cheap way to kill off the remaining characters.
Overall, SBZ is a middle-fingering, blood-shedding rush through a dark landscape with a bunch of well-built characters, whose natures you might not immediately get. The film is well structured, with the violent bits interspersed with questions of fame and integrity and vice versa, funny to watch and very quotable, including lines like ‘Charlieissocoollike just stole my sandwich’, in the face of impending death, resulting in the most thoughtful and edgy film I’ve seen from British YouTube.