The undead have undergone many stages of cinematic evolution since they slowly marched onto screens in the early 1930s. There were the unfortunate early depictions of black people as savages and monsters in films like 1932’s White Zombie and 1948’s I Walked With a Zombie. Then there was George A. Romero’s full-scale reinvention of horror with Night of the Living Dead in 1968, and the modern zombie revival ushered in with Danny Boyle’s sprinting infected armies in 2002 with 28 Days Later.
Lately, though, we seem to have settled into an era of sad zombie cinema: Less zombie-based horror, more zombie-based drama and ennui, often set in stretches of wilderness and featuring long, emotional silences. In these movies, zombies are just a symptom — and things like isolation, loneliness, climate change, and institutional racism are the disease. And almost everyone is in a forest so peaceful and bucolic it’s like they could accidentally find Bon Iver recording an album at any time.
This weekend, the latest Sad Zombie Movie hits Netflix: Cargo, which stars Martin Freeman as a man roaming the Australian outback with his infant daughter strapped to his back, trying to evade the prowling undead — and to get his baby to safety before he himself turns cannibal. It’s a thoughtful film about the limitlessness of a father’s love, with pesky zombies present to propel the story forward. In honor of the ennui-ridden movie, Vulture’s unpacking ten of our favorite emo zombie films, categorized based on your particular brand of existential terror. From daddy issues to your crippling obsession with being in control, we hope you feel seen.
If you want to be in your feelings about … making peace with change, even if it’s not the change you want, watch:
The Battery (2012)
Battery is unique among zombie stories in that it’s really a road-trip movie where two acquaintances are forced to become each other’s essential companions when the undead outbreak rips across the land and everyone else they know dies. Ben (Jeremy Gardner) thrives thanks to a gruff never-look-back mentality, but Mickey (Adam Cronheim) longs for comfort and familiarity, and does everything he can to escape into his mind and ignore that zombie problem following them everywhere. But you can’t wish your way out of the end of the world, and Mickey will have to learn through hardship, disappointment, and his friendship with Ben that you can either play the hand you’re dealt in life, or you can be chewed into meat strips by throngs of cannibals, which is probably written somewhere in an unpublished Chicken Soup for the Soul expanded edition.
If you want to be in your feelings about … the long and arduous search for true love, watch:
Warm Bodies (2013)
What if zombies didn’t just want brains? What if they also wanted intimacy, friendship, community, and even love? If you’re one of those people who gets gooey over even the most thinly developed romantic B plot, you’ll love this touching zom-com starring Nicholas Hoult as a walking dead guy named R who’s in a rut and looking for a way to break the tedium of his shuffling and organ-eating routine. And he just might find the answer in the empathetic and open-minded Julie (Teresa Palmer).
If you want to be in your feelings about … your daddy issues, watch:
In a rare dramatic role, Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Wade, a man determined to care for his daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin) after she is infected with a virus that will turn her into a cannibal, rotting her from the inside out. The infection at large is being loosely contained, and carriers are kept in quarantine or euthanized, but Wade refuses to surrender his daughter to captivity, and remains determined to either save her or spend her final days by her side. Think about your own dad and cry, for whatever your personal reasons may be.
If you want to be in your feelings about … your abandonment issues, watch:
It Stains the Sands Red (2016)
Most of the run time of Sands is spent following one woman, Molly (Brittany Allen), as she trudges through the desert in search of an airfield, so she can be flown to safety away from the undead hordes. She’s a coke-addled loudmouth who’s as worried about salvaging vodka as she is stockpiling water, but through flashbacks we learn that Molly ran away from her son long before the infected took over the world. As she cooks in the hot sun, Molly will come face-to-face with a relentless zombie, but more importantly, she’ll stare down her failings as a person and a mother, dreaming about the child she left behind.
If you want to be in your feelings about … our inability to exert any true control over our lives, watch:
The Wailing (2016)
Considering The Wailing combines cannibal contagion, a serial-murder mystery, a spirit-conjuring shaman, and demons, and it weighs in at more than two-and-a-half hours, it really shouldn’t be such a great film. But the alchemy works, and The Wailing is a beautiful, intense rumination on mass hysteria, the lengths one would go to protect their loved ones, what we are willing to believe when confronted with the inexplicable — and the fact that we’re really only reacting to circumstances life throws at us, instead of having any agency over how the world works. That’s right, you have absolutely no control. Don’t you feel better now?
If you want to be in your feelings about … your need to forgive yourself, watch:
Here Alone (2016)
Ann (Lucy Walters) is alone, living a fairly well-executed life in the woods after the death of her husband and infant daughter. But when she happens upon a pair of strangers, Ann must determine if these newcomers are trustworthy, and also decide whether or not she can make peace with the sins of her past and allow herself to move forward in a destroyed world. Much like Ann, none of us can truly love another until we first love ourselves — and that’s still true in the thick of a zombie-pocalypse.
If you want to be in your feelings about … the futility of struggle, watch:
It Comes at Night (2017)
It Comes at Night was about everything and nothing: the enemy within, the pointlessness of trying to survive after society falls, the eternal conflict between selfishness and selflessness. And since there was an unseen, unexplained malevolence in the woods — and we saw a few instances of rotting infection — we can go ahead and say it was also about zombies. At the very least, it’s not like anyone can say for sure that it wasn’t about zombies, but who cares about the undead when humanity will implode under the weight of paranoia and instinctual violence? Who cares about anything? Why care at all?
If you want to be in your feelings about … fighting against inevitable oblivion, watch:
The Girl With All the Gifts (2017)
The contagion is still totally out of control in Gifts, but a potential cure lives in the blood of a Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a zombie-human hybrid who was infected in the womb. When her containment facility is overrun, a military doctor who wants to strip her for parts (Glenn Close) and her protective teacher (Gemma Arterton) must fight to keep her alive, all while they fight each other about what the definition of “alive” truly is. They also have to stare into the existential void and consider whether or not they should just submit to the new zombie world order. Additional points of ennui include: conflicted feelings about motherhood, the struggle to define what makes us human.
If you want to be in your feelings about … the power of connection in a dying world, watch:
This French-Canadian movie features a few harrowing zombie encounters, but what’s even more frightening is watching the characters experience waning hope as their makeshift collective gets picked off by the infected. But even in their darkest hours, they find connection and tenderness in one another, and perform acts of selflessness to save lives — even if those lives are going to end anyway, because this is the apocalypse.
If you want to be in your feelings about … systemic racism and disenfranchisement of the other, watch:
The Cured (2018)
Another post-containment zombie story, The Cured is an Irish movie that takes place after a vaccine has been developed for the infected. The world is still in shambles, but the virus is somewhat under control, and the former raging cannibals are being slowly reintegrated to society. But does society want them back? Family members, neighbors, and friends turn against one another as the cured are treated like a blight on the community and an imminent threat. There are radical activists, internment camps, anti-cured hate crimes, and militant protectionists who want to shove the formerly infected behind a wall and be done with them for good. Watch to fuel your righteous fury at injustice.