This film starts and plays out like a typical true crime documentary and is paced as one, starting by placing us directly into the post-crime situation; a man named Francisco Salazar is accused of wiping out an entire tiny town Sangre de Cristo of 57 people overnight on the Mexican border.
The cast of characters being interviewed include some usual types, including experts, friends/family members, relatives of victims, the racist white sheriff, the racist radio host, and random loudmouth idiots on the street with racist opinions. In my opinion, this framing device is played up a bit much, to the degree that it strains a bit of credulity in the face of the photographs.
The build-up we get for Salazar is incoherent, with brief snippets talking about Mexican gangs and cartels, "La Raza", and how supposedly Salazar perfectly fits the archetype of a serial killer. This would all be fine if not for the fact that it's either not at all hinted at later on, or else directly contradicted by the later on interview.
Pure racism is the driving force behind the crusade against him, driven on mercilessly by the sleazy racist sheriff and the incessantly annoying racist radio host like a southwestern rush Limbaugh, who plays up the ultra-conservative hateful bigot to a degree that may be painfully realistic, but severely detracts from the narrative at times.
we're shown Salazar being convicted after being assigned an inept public defender only on his third case, and at a second trial we're introduced to a crucial aspect of the story that changes everything; a camera.
Suddenly we're introduced to the "real" Francisco Salazar; someone in no way related to "La Raza" or any Mexican gang or cartel. Someone who is a photographer who did odd jobs in Sangre de Cristo and was friends with the local priest and his family. We also get ahold of footage of an interview conducted with him, in which the story of what actually happened unfolds.
Via interviews with relatives of the dead, the racist white sheriff, the experts, and snippets from the interview with Salazar himself, as well as maps, we then go over Salazar's journey through Sangre de Cristo, where it becomes almost certain to us that a zombie outbreak has occurred. We get no unrealistic glimpses of the events aside from black and white still images taken by Salazar at the time it happened. I don't know how the camera worked or why the images came out oddly at times, with lots of unusual blurs, but it only served to further enhance the creepiness and unsettling nature, as many of the figures in the photograph don't look blatantly like the stereotypical zombie, but nevertheless just look wrong, sometimes horribly so.
The journey Salazar takes goes from him walking south, out of town, to him ending up running up in a roughly straight line north through town, photographing all along the way. The photographs are flawless in evoking horror and creepiness without being over the top or too expository. The zombie motif is evident in Salazar's descriptions, while the photographs seem to start adding to them, making for some scenes of "zombies" behaving smarter than the usual zombie, or with faces that are absolutely demonic.
the photographs are so magnificent that they carry the entire movie.
The only problem I have, which seems relatively major, is that the topic of the photographs is brought up during the second trial, but is inexplicably ruled inadmissible in court. No explanation is given why, and the inept public defender doesn't even bother fighting it.
The racist white sheriff uses the "they're photoshopped" excuse, but the insane level of detail in many of the photographs makes them undeniably real. Even if the "zombies" could arguably be considered photoshopped, the photographs very clearly show that it is not Francisco Salazar who is attacking and killing the subjects, but a large group of other people attacking and killing them.
The word "zombie" is never spoken or mentioned in any way, nor is the subject of zombies broached by any of the experts or defenders of Salazar. Even the psychological expert guy tries to imply at the end that the town massacre was another in a long line of historical riots and assaults on communities of color likely orchestrated by white supremacist types.
ultimately, this is a rather unique take on the Zombie genre, and the gorgeously haunting photographs do much to elevate this film.