“You never hear about how the apocalypse smells like total ass. But it does.”
And so do some stereotypes. We all know this one: about the geek who thinks they are so prone to so many physical and emotional weaknesses that they will slow down everybody else if they are even noticed at all.
Mitchell L. Cohen’s short zombie film Super Zero starts off just like that age-old trope. You know the one: about the stereotypical geek boy whose crush and attractive female love interest doesn’t seem to notice him, who he doesn’t have the courage to even talk to, and who views himself as almost completely useless. It’s a story told so many times by our culture and literature that it is essentially a very typical narrative. But Cohen adds two more elements to this story.
Josh Hershberg doesn’t view himself as that passive-aggressive stereotype of “the nice guy.” He doesn’t think he is owed anything by Page Reynolds or even society. In the year 2017, as a sample of water is discovered and taken from a Mars expedition, he can’t even enjoy this development of science in his geeky life. Why?
Because is geeky is going to be over in a very terminal sense. In the society that exists before the apocalypse, Hershberg has brain cancer: the kind that doesn’t have a cure. Hershberg ends up quoting Theodore Roosevelt when he states “do what you can, with what you have, where you are” in a self-derisive way: because he doesn’t have that much time left. The initial tones of Hershberg’s first-person narration in Super Zero are laced with an irreverent black humour and an infusion of despair as he decides to end his story.
It’s funny, however, just how the reminder and slogan of “It gets better” becomes so prevalent as the zombie apocalypse part of the story begins.
Cohen plays up Hershberg’s adaptation to a foul-smelling post-apocalyptic world with a slow and careful pace. You wonder just how a slow-moving cancer victim with seemingly no fighting or survival experience would even last a minute after an outbreak of fast moving zombies: yes, that kind of zombie. Certainly the stock survivalist jock Nate Bishop and the wise-cracking obnoxious Gary Amante characters see him as more of a liability even though Page, who has survived this far, seems to be a popular girl with a “heart of gold” or at least common human decency. In fact, from the very beginning you see that she does indeed notice that he exists and has an inkling of what he’s capable of even before he reveals it.
Because when you realize that Josh Hershberg is a hard-core engineering geek genius and you see just what he can do with a brain disease that makes him unpalatable, a walking stick and something that looks like a flux-capacitor, you will not be disappointed. All in all, I think that while Super Zero does use some age-old high school zombie survival group stereotypes — complete with the compassionate woman, the stoic jock, the annoying and loud meat-shield, and the nerd — it has the potential to utterly subvert them. In our day and age, we’ve seen a lot of bad-ass geeks and nerds of all genders, so to some degree we are rather spoiled.
And wow is that musical score ever bad-ass.
After watching this film I want to see what happens next as Cohen wants to grow Super Zero into a series. Does Josh Hershberg’s biological advantage overcome him in the end? Would that affect any relationships that he may make? What happens if the group loses him? Will he leave a legacy or will this all get changed somehow? And would we see more development for the other characters?
And as a geek, how do you think you would survive a zombie apocalypse? Personally, my fantasies have wavered between learning necromancy and controlling the zombies, dying first because I slowed people down, or finding my way to a group of my friends where I can tell stories for morale. But while I don’t know about myself or the rest of you, I do think that if Josh Hershberg could give this film a subtitle it would be the following: