Tag Archives: The Practice of Film Criticism

Cameron Smith: ‘ZOM/BEING: The paradoxical nature of the living dead in cinema’


ZOM/BEING: The paradoxical nature of the living dead in cinema


Video Essay – Creator’s Statement

1323 words.


ZOM/BEING: The paradoxical nature of the living dead in cinema is a video essay that aims to explicate the pleasures of the zombie film and illustrate how its residence in the horror genre has spanned decades and continues to be alluring for audiences. As Olney remarks, “we have always had a closer kinship with the living dead than with other horror-movie monsters”[1]: there is an intimacy between the human and the zombie. Of course, the zombie is often formerly human, but it is cinema’s personification, weaponization and eclectic representation of the iconography that renders the zombie a cinematic tool for filmmakers to exploit.


The video essay is structured around a central idea of paradox: the zombie exhibits a series of contradictions within their imagery and in the films they belong to. The unity of these contradictions is the essence of the zombie and what makes them so applicable to so many cultures and genres over so many years. The three parts of the video essay correlate to: their varying PACE, the SPACE in which they dwell in, and their expressive yet expressionless FACE.


PACE investigates the speed of the zombie, and how it can determine the pacing and tone of the film itself. The classical representation of the slow, bumbling zombie is concerned with the “contemplation of the horrific”[2]: the lack of speed forces audiences to gaze upon a deformed, damaged and deconstructed human body. The unbalanced gait, sombre expression and minimalist mannerisms are as distancing as they are inviting an identification. In Zombi 2, (1979, Italy, d. Fulci) Susan (Auretta Gay) is almost paralysed with fear as she is confronted by a zombie quite literally rising from its grave, and in a series of shot/reverse shots, exemplifies this sense of ‘contemplation’ and concentration on the horrors of the zombie. The slow zombie becomes a spectacle of sorts, especially in Fulci’s grotesque iteration where the decay and dirt are highlighted through invasive, uncomfortable close-ups with a fish-eye lens. It produces a reaction of revulsion in the human protagonists, and therefore in the spectators, who find pleasure in viewing such violence and bodily destruction[3].

Train to Busan’s (2016, South Korea, d. Yeon) high-octane chase sequence through the carriages of a moving train infested with fast, blood-thirsty zombies provides a stark contrast with the aforementioned ‘contemplation’ of slow zombies. The fast zombies are akin to animals on the hunt, desperately galloping through each-other for a taste of flesh. Shot with shaky camerawork and a frantic editing style like in Dawn of the Dead (2004, USA, d. Snyder), they evoke a horror of surprise and relentlessness that resonate with “spectators relating to the human protagonists and to their situation in the diegetic world”[4], rather than the easily overpowered slow zombies, who are often deemed less frightening by contemporary audiences than those who are fast. This paradox is even recontextualised in the ‘zom-com’, as Shaun of the Dead’s (2004, UK, d. Wright) gross-out humour often revolves around the slowness and clumsiness of the zombie whilst in Zombieland (2009, USA, d. Fleischer) Columbus’ (Jesse Eisenberg) extensive rules of how to survive the apocalypse includes stretching in preparation for running away from zombies.


SPACE in a zombie film is used both as a “barometer of cultural anxiety”[5] and as “wish fulfilment, catering to current fantasies about life in a postapocalyptic world without social structures and laws”[6]. Recalling the seminal zombie offering Night of the Living Dead (1968, USA, d. Romero) and using Hervey’s writing on Romero’s film, the sequence in which Ben (Duane Jones) borders up the decaying Pittsburgh house can be viewed as to represent a paranoid, violence-stricken nation. The Harris Poll, a survey established in 1963 to examine the behaviours and attitudes of American adults[7], states that by 1968 (the release of Night), the proportion of Americans that were “seriously worried about crime and violence” was at two-thirds, in comparison to two-percent in 1963. This idea of the zombie film as a ‘barometer’ for societal concerns is present here, and the nihilist end to the film in which protagonist Ben is mistaken for a zombie and is shot dead, evokes imagery of the assassinations and Civil Rights movement that defined the turmoil of the late 1960s in America.

This allegorical use of the zombie is juxtaposed with how the human protagonists act in the apocalypse, carrying out activities usually unavailable to them with no consequences for their actions- not even for violence. In some cases, zombie films allegorise contemporary social issues and on the other, they can gleefully provide a utopian world to become immersed in. In Dawn of the Dead (1978, USA, d. Romero), this means raiding department stores and playing endless games in the arcade- spectators watch vicariously and perhaps enviously at their freedom in usually-occupied, but now vast and barren spaces. Romero critiques this urge to consume by contrasting these tonally-light moments of wish fulfilment, with sequences like one towards the beginning of the film where low-income housing projects in Philadelphia suffer the effects of classism and racism within the government-enforced martial law, providing subtext for the ravaging apocalypse.


To discuss the zombie is to discuss ourselves, and this could not be more relevant than in the FACE section of this video essay. However, there is a sense of ‘othering’ in some filmic depictions of the living dead. By distancing the human protagonist from the zombie antagonist, filmmakers can enact a sense of ‘othering’, where the zombie is considered “the ultimate foreign other”[8], as displayed in World War Z’s (2013, USA, d. Forster) Jerusalem sequence. Hordes of zombies are indistinguishable from one another in these moments, there is a complete lack of individuality, before the film’s ending indicates that the human face is the polar opposite, or an enemy, to that of the zombie as the star image of Brad Pitt in a two-shot with a zombie scientist suggests separation rather than likeness.

In 28 Days Later (2002, UK, d. Boyle), the enigmatic Jim (Cillian Murphy) that timidly explores the empty streets of London in the beginning, brutally murders a fellow human in the film’s chilling finale. His face covered in blood is shot in murky shadows and through unclear camerawork as he gouges a soldier’s eyes with his fingers; an innate violence not too different from the vicious zombies of the film. Jim’s characterisation is ‘mirroring’ that of a zombie, so much so that Selena (Naomie Harris) nearly stabs him- unsure if her lover is truly her lover anymore. The mimicking of zombie traits suggests a cyclical attitude towards violence and its ubiquity and inevitability in humanity, even when it is faced with the insurmountable obstacle of a zombie apocalypse.

Romero’s depiction of Stephen’s (David Emge) descent in Dawn of the Dead (1978) allows for many interpretations, and by piecing two images of Stephen together as alive and dead, it encapsulates this video essay’s argument for paradox. There is an image of a human with piercing blue eyes plagued with fear whilst he furrows his brow and dons an aptly obnoxious leather jacket, living up to the character’s sarcastic nickname of ‘flyboy’. It clashes with an image of death personified: vacant eyes, a deathly grey complexion with the mouth ajar whilst wearing a regular, white collared shirt splattered in blood, a connotation of a conformist eventuality for the average American. It is an image intended to provoke contemplation. Has Stephen simply become a blood-thirsty zombie? Or has he become what he has always repressed? Does it represent the violent history of man? Or perhaps a guilty America in the years succeeding the end of the Vietnam War? A visualisation of the effects of toxic masculinity, or a stern warning of mindless consuming in a capitalist ideology? Is the transformation into a zombie truly a transformation, or is it a mirrored image of humanity at its most primal, or most pathetic, or maybe even at its worst?


by Cameron Smith




28 Days Later (Dir. Danny Boyle, Prod. DNA Films, UK, 2002).

Dawn of the Dead (Dir. George A. Romero, Prod. Laurel Group, USA, 1978).

Dawn of the Dead (Dir. Zack Snyder, Prod. Strike Entertainment, USA, 2004).

Night of the Living Dead (Dir. George A. Romero, Prod. Image Ten, USA, 1968).

Shaun of the Dead (Dir. Edgar Wright, Prod. Studio Canal, UK, 2004).

Train to Busan (Dir. Yeon Sang-ho, Prod. Next Entertainment World, South Korea, 2016).

World War Z (Dir. Marc Forster, Prod. Plan B, USA, 2013).

Zombi 2 (Dir. Lucio Fulci, Prod. Variety Film, Italy, 1979).

Zombieland (Dir. Ruben Fleischer, Prod. Columbia Pictures, USA, 2009).


Dendle, Peter. ‘Zombie Movies and the “Millennial Generation” in Christie, Deborah, Lauro, Sarah Juliet (ed.) Better Off Dead (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011).

Hervey, Ben. Night of the Living Dead (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

Olney, Ian. ‘Our Zombies, Ourselves’ in Zombie Cinema (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2017).

Pinedo, Isabel Cristina, ‘Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film’ in Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing (New York: State University of New York Press, 1997).

Roche, David, ‘“That’s Real! That’s What You Want!”: Producing Fear in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) vs Zack Snyder’s remake (2004)’, Horror Studies (2:1, 2011).

[1] Ian Olney, ‘Our Zombies, Ourselves’ in Zombie Cinema (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2017),

  1. 11.

[2] David Roche, ‘“That’s Real! That’s What You Want!”: Producing Fear in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) vs Zack Snyder’s remake (2004)’, Horror Studies (2:1, 2011), p.82.

[3] Isabel Cristina Pinedo, ‘Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film’ in Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing (New York: State University of New York Press, 1997).

[4] Roche, Horror Studies (2:1, 2011), p. 78.


[5] Olney, Zombie Cinema (2017), p.8.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ben Hervey. Night of the Living Dead (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), p. 51.

[8] Olney, Zombie Cinema (2017), p. 8.

‘Time and Music in T2 Trainspotting’ by Leon Syla

Video Essay:

Creator’s Statement:

How does cinema capture time? How can time capture cinema? What effect does music have in showing the passage of time and forming a new world and narrative? Five years after the release of T2 Trainspotting I am still pleasantly surprised to discover the new and exciting ways that director Danny Boyle manipulates time and uses music to craft a story set two decades after its original that truly displays the effects of time. My video essay aims to answer these questions in relation to T2 Trainspotting through close textual analysis alongside historically informed analysis.

Before the title appears, the video begins with two versions of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’, the original and The Prodigy remix, instantly providing viewers with the insight of how sound has changed over the last twenty years, as well as a chance to familiarise themselves with the film’s main theme. The video essay then dives into the ways in which T2 Trainspotting uses its past to create a refreshing and new world for its audiences, rather than use fan service and obvious call-backs as means of enticing viewers, as seen with films such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A close reading is applied to the opening scene, with particular focus placed on how time catches up to the main characters and how one can physically see these defects on the actors. Using a Kevin B. Lee desktop-documentary style of editing, I display Liam Gaughan’s quotation of how Boyle uses nostalgia not as a crutch, but as a tool, turning it into a weapon in the form of urgency that is used against the characters. (Gaughan, 2021: 1) Turning to another scene of close analysis, I observe the ‘1690’ scene and how Boyle uses the figures of Nationalists clinging to forgotten history as a means of forming a sense of identity and how the desperate attempt to cling to the past is futile. Beyond this, the Nationalists represent those who voted to ‘Leave’ during the Brexit referendum and Boyle’s stance on Brexit shines through in the way these characters are presented.

A significant portion of the video essay is dedicated to the discussion of freeze frames, and exploring how they literally capture time, something the characters cannot do. The freeze frames go beyond mere stylistic effect and highlight the desire to cling to moments that remind the characters of their past. Another method of preserving time arrives in the form of Boyle dating his film using contemporary technology and politics. Going beyond the realms of cinema, Boyle uses his film as a way to ‘freeze frame’ 2017 with his film. A direct quote from Boyle himself at the South By Southwest Film Festival in 2017 regarding how time can not only be extended or contracted, but can also be stopped and unlocked in cinema demonstrates the malleability of the form and how it can be used to great effect (Renee, 2017: 1).

Turning to music, one can observe how the film uses old and new sounds to reflect the characters’ positions in their lives, with them feeling comfortable in the music they remember and feeling confused and unfamiliar with the more contemporary music. A close look at High Contrast and The Prodigy’s songs reveal a comparison between their original sounds and the music that was chosen for the film, generating a sense of subversion within the film. The numerous stings heard throughout T2 Trainspotting also creates frustration for both the characters and the audience who can only hear edits of what they remember, and only hearing the full song by the end of the film once their journey is complete.

Matching the fast-paced editing of the film and the soft instrumental of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ my video essay attempts to emulate the style of the film, while providing an informative and detailed understanding of how Boyle reshapes time and music, while also exploring how the two concepts operate in a realm beyond the screen.

– Leon Syla


Gaughan, Liam. How ‘T2 Trainspotting’ Weaponizes Nostalgia to Become One of the Best Sequels of the 21st Century. Collider. May 25, 2021



Renee, V. ‘T2 Trainspotting’ Q&A with Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor: ‘This Better Not Be Shite’. No Film School. March 16, 2017




Emily Jackman on Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

A discussion with Emily Jackman  on Blade Runner (Scott, 1982), its influences, its impacts and its cultural significance, across all areas of culture, including fashion:

Blade Runner – Podcast


Alex Santos-Edgar on La Haine (Matthieu Kassovitz, 1995)

In this podcast Alex Santos-Edgar and I discuss La Haine (Matthieu Kassovitz, 1995): it’s style, its influence, how Paris figures, where masculinity and race figure in it…and more:



José Arroyo

Alfie Watson-Brown: Baths and Bathrooms as Narrative Spaces in the work of Lynne Ramsey


Click on the link below for the video essay:





Lynne Ramsay’s tackling of social and emotional issues, particularly poverty and trauma, is frequently revered as ground-breaking- or at least expertly crafted, due to the element of artistic poeticism her films are centred around. Studying cinematography at the National Film and Television School, her films are often viewed through a cinematographic lens. However, much discussion of Ramsay’s work is so centred around cinematography and visual poeticism that it neglects the narrative, characteristic and emotional impact of said visual focus, meaning that many readings of the emotional content of her films are left underdeveloped, without sufficient focus on textual analysis. Most video essays centred around Ramsay focus purely on her visual style, with popular essays such as Tony Zhou’s (under the pseudonym ‘Every Frame a Painting’) ‘Lynne Ramsay- The Poetry of Details’, amassing almost one million views[1], focusing on tiny visual elements of Ramsay’s work without giving significant depth to the impact of this style. This is not necessarily a misdemeanour on the respective essayist’s part, merely it is a symptom of a heavy focus on as large and undefined topic as visual poetry. For this reason, my project is given more specificity, focusing in on a smaller subsection of Ramsay’s stylistic tendencies, centred around the significance of the bath and the bathroom. In this project, I first aim to give some contextualisation over the previous uses of baths and bathrooms in cinema, arriving at the conclusion that while these examples, do contain key scenes in baths, the bath is mostly used to symbolise something which is already present, namely, in these examples such as Scarface (1983) and Pretty Woman (1990), the luxury their respective characters have come into. There is a sense that while these scenes take place in a bath, much of the narrative effect could have still been achieved in a completely different setting. However, in Ramsay’s films, largely due to her incessant return to the theme of water, there is a sense that the bath is perfectly suited to the narrative and characteristic through lines she aims to explore. Through justifying these thoughts alongside a foundation of texts such as Annette Kuhn’s ‘Ratcatcher’ and Stella Hockenhull’s ‘British Women Film Directors in the New Millenium’, as well as interviews with Ramsay where she gives some background to her films, I aim to digest the emotional connections Ramsay seeks to explore through the bath and bathroom. One potential drawback of this style of analysis could be the lack of academic founding. Despite considering the two key texts listed above, this textual analysis-heavy approach to film criticism requires much of my own input, and with a lack of pre-existing, relevant research into the narratives of Ramsay’s films, the project risks being too subjective. However, I have aimed to counter-balance this, with much credit being lent to the unique format of the video essay, by justifying my points with on-screen references and backing.


Content Focus

Screenshot 2019-06-07 at 07.28.22.png

Ratcatcher- Ramsay’s first feature, following a guilt-ridden child, James, who finds himself responsible for the accidental manslaughter of his friend, Ryan. In this film, the bath acts as a vessel to hold the recurring theme of water, offering a place for Ryan and Margaret Ann to take some respite from their harsh surroundings, and indulge in play. However, due to its associations with water, it also acts as a merciless reminder of James’ guilt, tied strongly to the canal through Ramsay’s use of montage between the bath scenes, and scenes of James’ dad saving another child, Kenny, from the canal.

You Were Never Really Here- Following hitman Joe as he tries to save Nina from a child-exploitation ring, Ramsay here makes use of the bath to tie Joe’s work life to his home life. While he cleans up the overflown bath for his mother at home, he also cleans up the pedophile ring for Nina. This works as a tying together of Joe’s affinity for the two important women in his life, and when his mother dies, Joe transfers his emotional connections on to Nina, marked by a crucial scene in the lake. However, this connection is foreboded in the previously mentioned bath sequence.

Swimmer- Our brief relationship with a long distance swimmer becomes increasingly convoluted, and we begin to wonder what his true connection with the water is. Although there is no space for a bath scene in this short, Ramsay’s classic use of water is ever-present, and we can carry some of the ideas explored in this film in to our discussion of the bath.

Morvern Callar (2002)Holding a scene which I would argue is symbolic of Ramsay’s depiction of the bath and the bathroom, the film sees born-again Morvern take control of her life in the wake of her boyfriend’s suicide. The bath scene works as a depiction of her growing confidence, and preludes her further emotional development in the film. Before she can fully move on with her life, she has to completely end any previous connection with her deceased boyfriend, and it is no coincidence that Ramsay decides to host this scene in the bathroom.

Don’t Look Now- I argue that this self-professed influence on Ramsay carries into her use of trauma explored through water, with the opening scene, following John’s despair at watching his daughter drown, carrying particular relevance.


Through tying these examples together, I aim to provide a cohesive, pragmatic, and comprehensive view of Ramsay’s use of water, which is exemplified in her use of the bath.

Screenshot 2019-06-07 at 07.28.45.png


Kuhn, A., Ratcatcher (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

Hockenhull, S., British Women Film Directors in the New Millennium(London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).



Morvern Callar (2002), dir. Lynne Ramsay, BBC, UK.

Seven Pounds (2008), dir. Gabriele Muccino, Overbrook, USA.

The Shining (1980), dir. Stanley Kubrick, Warner Bros, USA.

Pretty Woman (1990), Garry Marshall, Touchstone, USA.

Scarface (1983), dir. Brian de Palma, Universal, USA.

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), dir. Wes Craven, New Line, USA.

American Beauty (1999), dir. Sam Mendes, Dreamworks, USA.

The Big Lebowski (1998), dir. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Working Title, USA.

Fight Club (1999), dir. David Fincher, Fox, USA.

Psycho (1960), dir. Alfred Hitchcock, Universal, Paramount, UK.

Ratcatcher (1999), dir. Lynne Ramsay, BBC, UK.

You Were Never Really Here (2017), dir. Lynne Ramsay, Film4, UK.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), dir. Lynne Ramsay, BBC, UK.

Swimmer (2012), dir. Lynne Ramsay, BBC, UK..






[1]Every Frame a Painting, ‘Lynne Ramsay- The Poetry of Details’, published on 7/5/2015