Director (and co-writer): Brandon Christensen
Cast: Keegan Connor Tracy, Jett Klyne, Sean Rogerson, Sara Canning, Stephen McHattie, Chandra West
A family find themselves terrorized by their eight-year-old son’s imaginary friend. – IMDB
Coming in a year where Daniel isn’t Real (review) was an outstanding film with an well-crafted evil imaginary friend, Z takes on their own take on what can be done with the imaginary friends premise as well. Taking home the Best Director and Best Feature at the Blood in the Snow Festival this year, this movie does definitely pack quite a punch.
Its easy nowadays to quickly assume that creepy children and evil actions and the whole lurking camera can bring a lot of general unsettled feeling. Z is a bit different. While it starts off in that familiar way, there is a hint of many great horror films and how it is execute from toning its scene into darker tones inside the house to create the atmosphere and playing with the off-scene sound effects while having the story scripted to progress in a well-paced delivery. These all add up to effective scares and a lot of them are land very well. There are quite a few startling jump scares that are delivered through its atmosphere, lighting and building the tension.
The cast here also delivers some solid performances. The most notable comes from lead actress as Beth played by Keegan Connor Tracy who plays the mother who realizes that her son’s imaginary friend might actually be real and causing him to do troubling things. Beth has a lot of depth and character development and its a fairly subtle performance most of the time with little reactions and expressions running the show until the bigger moments happen. Taking on the creepy child aka the troubled son role as Joshua is Jett Klyne (who we also saw in another BITS 2019 film in Puppet Killer) who definitely delivers on this without any overacting and making it very unsettling. Finally, two actor and actress, Stephen McHattie and Sara Canning respectively, always appears in the most unexpected places and also puts in some great performances as the respective roles of psychiatrist and sister of Beth.
Perhaps the one thing to criticize about Z would be that that possibly its budget limited its polish of its effects. In a fire scene, there was some very apparently unreal fire and smoke circling the screen. The appearance of some of the scares while landed really well, also had the after effect of suffering one or two times from having this goofy CGI as well that took about the scare afterwards by a little. This is where we need to talk about creature design of Z, the imaginary friend in question. Z is revealed step by step and there’s a few creepy scenes that works however, there are some moments in close-up or in faster motion that gives it less of the finesse and fear that it should instigate. Luckily, the horror is maintained by how the scene was built up in advance to play up the moment, giving Z’s appearance more of a fleeting jumpscare moment. It is most effective and also frequently, remaining as the unseen presence.
Overall, Z is quite a breath of fresh air. Director Brandon Christensen crafts a movie with very good horror atmosphere. There are some tropes and predictable elements at the beginning but it quickly also increasingly adds in some surprises that startles whether as jump scares or traumatic scenes or simply finding a way to change it to have its own unique elements. Despite some minor CGI effects falling short, this indie horror film takes an innocent imaginary friend concept and breaths a lot of life and builds the tension using its atmosphere and all the surrounding elements as well as great performances by Keegan Connor Tracy and Jett Klyne. A lot of Z’s charm lies in its surprises and unique twists that it takes leading into unexpected territory.