The basic zombie plot is very different from the basic plot of most horror films, and most films in general.
At their most basic, almost all plots are mysteries that people solve. Something happens. The hero or heroine attempts to figure out what happened and who is behind it. Then the hero or heroine attempts to figure out how to put things right. Personality and character are tested and revealed by how the hero or heroine figures out what’s going on and how he or she makes things right.
Zombie films are wildly different. Zombie films begin with the hero or heroine in a bad situation. Then the situation gets worse. Then the situation becomes still more horrible. Finally the situation becomes grotesquely unbearable. Personality and character are tested and revealed not by how the hero or heroine figures out things and solves things, but rather by how he or she reacts when confronted with the escalating chaos and hopelessness engulfing their world.
These are, at their root, philosophical differences and those philosophical roots are growing deep within religious soil.
Even though the basic elements of plots are seldom discussed by consumers of films, or even critics in the modern world, everyone still reacts at one level or another to the philosophy and religion implicit and unspoken within entertainment. And I think that’s why zombie films generate such passionate revulsion from some movie goers and such passionate engagement from fans.
In normal entertainment, normal plots, the basic unspoken philosophical assumptions are that we can know what is going on. We can figure out what is going on. There are individuals we can isolate as the cause of our problems. We can take meaningful action to make our problems go away. We can fix things and make the world right.
These beliefs are not axiomatically true beliefs. They are beliefs people choose to believe. They are philosophical beliefs that grow, flower, from various religious assumptions about the world around us.
These are expressions of the basic schism in the Christian world about the City of God. Is it Man’s job to create the City of God here on Earth and then Jesus will return and rule from that City? Or is it Man’s job to keep himself right with God until Jesus returns bringing with Him the City of God that He will then open to us?
Do the answers to our questions, the solutions to our problems, lie here, within and around us, or do the answers to our questions, the solutions to our problems, lie out there with God?
For the first two or three hundred years of Christianity, Christians looked to God. Then, for the next few hundred years Man turned his attention away from God and to this world and to men and women. Then the Reformation fractured the Christian world and nothing has been sorted out since.
Today Dominion Theology in its “official,” codified framework and throughout the secular and ‘mainstream’ religious Establishments still looks away from God and toward man, still works directly to build the City of God for Jesus. Other Evangelicals (without any official label but often identified as Premillennialists in general) acknowledge that Man cannot Save himself or this world and rather must always look to God, and it is God who will cleanse this world and deliver His City to men.
This conflict—unstated, unspoken, unlabeled—defines almost all art and entertainment. Sometimes it’s almost invisible even if you look for it. Sometimes it’s bluntly obvious.
The basic zombie plot makes things pretty plain. And the intense, emotional responses zombie films inspire—for better and worse—testify to the deep-seated place the conflict holds in all of us.