Zombies on Beacon Hill

by Emily Woods / Beacon Correspondent • March 21, 2013

The team worked extensively on makeup such as oatmeal to simulate human brain
courtesy of Crystal Pastis
The team worked extensively on makeup such as oatmeal to simulate human brain
courtesy of Crystal Pastis

Imagine a post-apocalyptic world overrun by chaos, disease, destruction, and  humans.

Emerson student BA film Soulless explores the stereotypical zombie horror flick from a new perspective. According to Crystal Pastis, a junior visual and media arts major and writer/director of photography for this project, readapting such a popular idea requires a little extra work.

“I originally thought making a zombie movie was the most cliché thing to do, since everyone does it,” said Pastis. “But then I thought, what if I just reverse the cliché?”

That’s exactly what Pastis did. Her movie follows a lone zombie named Jack as he wakes up one day to find he’s been infected by flesh-eating bacteria and has begun his transition from zombie to human. According to Pastis, the tone of the piece ranges from serious to comical, in Jack’s misguided attempts to assimilate into everyday life. For example, he doesn’t grasp the concept of money and wears a tacky Hawaiian shirt when trying to dress like a human.

Pastis explains that one of her goals in writing this script was to provide a commentary on what it means to be human.

“Jack’s dilemma is something our age group can relate to, because he struggles to understand a lot of things people take so seriously,” said  Pastis. “The film ends on a serious note, once the audience realizes that he’s just like everyone else.”

Originally from Washington, D.C., Pastis has gained occasional experience writing screenplays prior to Soulless, but this film was the first project she’s done in which she served as both writer and director of photography. The shoot lasted three continuous days, and was a series of trials and tribulations, including a day of re-shoots due to faulty Fujifilm and several difficulties in securing shooting locations.

The intricate zombie makeup, done by Jill Pelentay, a junior visual and media arts major, who served as both the editor and production design for Soulless was interested in authenticity. 

“The point with this film was to make everything as realistic as possible, so that we believe Jack is going through a human transition,” said Pastis. 

To achieve this effect, Pelentay and her team worked extensively on naturalistic makeup such as oatmeal to simulate human brains and ripped T-shirts to reveal red makeup designed to simulate the ribcage of the zombie.

In addition to Pastis and Pelentay, the rest of the Soulless crew — director Zach Grossman, a junior visual and media arts major and producer Ruby Zhang — a sophomore visual and media arts major are in full zombie makeup in their film’s promotional Kickstarter video asking the viewer to “donate to save a non-life.”