A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Z is a horror movie about an 8-year-old boy's imaginary friend gone wrong. A child falls from a high place (briefly seen in the background), and cracking bones can be heard. Another child is in peril. Scenes show dead bodies, and bodies hanging from nooses, as well as some blood smears. There are plenty of other scary things, as well as creepy noises and jump scares. Language includes a few uses of "s--t" and exclamations of "Jesus" and "Jesus Christ." A supporting character is very drunk in one scene (a nearly empty bottle of vodka is shown); another character tells her to "clean yourself up." Other casual drinking is shown, two characters share a cigarette, and prescription pills for a child are chopped up and put into milk. Sex isn't an issue. The characters are sometimes frustrating, but the movie is so cleverly constructed that the scares really work.
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What's the story?
In Z, 8-year-old Josh Parsons (Jett Klyne) is a good kid who's dreamy and shy. One day he starts playing with an imaginary friend he calls "Z." His mother, Beth (Keegan Connor Tracy), is concerned, but his father, Kevin (Sean Rogerson), shrugs it off. Psychologist Dr. Seager (Stephen McHattie) says that Josh will outgrow it but seems shocked when the name "Z" is mentioned. Things get worse as "Z" seems to spur Josh on to worse and worse behavior, to the point that he's expelled from school. Then, when Beth's mother dies and she starts going through boxes of old things, she finds something startling. This isn't the first time "Z" has been around ...
Is it any good?
Marred by a few gaps in character logic and behavior, this "imaginary friend" horror movie is nonetheless quite spooky thanks to its clever camera setups, sharp sense of timing, and startling music. Directed and co-written by Brandon Christensen, Z immediately comes across as brisk, skillful work, with a touching, soundless scene demonstrating Josh's isolation. As "Z" starts its reign of terror, the movie works largely with sudden shocks, but they're far more skillful and thoughtful than regular old jump scares. Christensen even uses some creaky old genre staples such as a boy staring blankly at an unseen wall, or a woman taking a bath in a tub surrounded by candles to unleash big scares.
One scene involving a staircase will make even the most jaded horror fans shriek. But the characters can be very frustrating. Kevin always seems two steps behind, and the things that he and Beth choose not to say to each other are baffling. Not to mention the strange reaction to Josh's being expelled (they take him to a huge indoor playground?) and the lack of concern over the grandmother's death and other troubling events. Even Dr. Seager, who seems to know what's going on, takes a long time to actually help out, although McHattie is always fun to watch. Moreover, Tracy is sympathetic as Beth, and Z on the whole is so technically shrewd and thrilling that it's definitely worth a look.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Z's violence. When is it shocking, and when is it scary? How do the filmmakers show these things? What kind of impact does death have on the characters?
What makes scary movies appealing? Why do people sometimes want to be scared?
How is the communication in your family different or similar to this family's?
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