Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Dead (2010)

Directors: The Ford Brothers (Howard J and Jonathan)

Writers: The Ford Brothers (Howard J and Jonathan)
Genre: Horror (Zombie Horror)

Recommended to: Zombie fans
Characters: Lt. Bryan Murphy (Rob Freeman), Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia)

Synopsis: Two soldiers cross the African savanna in the midst of the zombie apocalypse.
The Ramble:

With Resident Evil 6, a third season of the Walking Dead, and a big budget, Brad Pitt starring adaptation of World War Z all slated for 2012, it is unlikely that the end of ZombiMania is anywhere in sight. Of course that means that we will continue to see a glut of zed-centered, low budget horror flicks for the forseeable future. So what makes The Dead stand out?
For one thing, it’s beautiful.

Seriously, I’ve watched dozens of zombie movies, and this is the first one I can say is simply beautiful to look at. The filmmakers exploit well their African setting, something surprising novel for such a well mined genre. We all know that the Australians have been exploiting their home's natural beauty for horror films for years; I hope this starts a similar trend in the Dark Continent.

Of course the wrapping paper doesn’t make the gift, and if gorgeous vistas were all The Dead had to offer, it would be an easy film to pass on. Thankfully there is enough grist in this mill to warrant your attention.

Most zombie films are some variation on a siege movie (survivors trapped in farmhouse/mall/gym etc), but The Dead is more of a road movie, sort of a serious take Zombieland. Two soldiers, the American merc Murphy and African soldier Daniel meet up in the midst of the apocalypse. Murphy is looking for a way to get back home, and Daniel wants to find his son, who managed to survive a zombie attack on his village. Along the way, shit happens. People live, people die, there are zombies everywhere, and maybe someone learns a lesson along the way. Or not.

Really if “African zombie outbreak” didn’t get you interested in The Dead, I doubt a synopsis of the admittedly thin plot will do the trick. Hell, there isn't even a lion attack or a zombie elephant to break up the monotony (surprisingly, the native fauna is absent in the film).

What works best is the zombies themselves. They are everywhere. Every place the characters stop, you’ll see at least one dead head shuffling in the background. And these are old school, shambling, Romero zombies. It has become hard to do them justice of late; it’s just too easy to make them into something farcical – funny costumes, extravagant make up, over the top zombie kills all add to the fun but take away the terror. But the Ford Brothers get them just right. The actors mostly maintain a blank stare, white eyes gazing from mostly black faces, rocking back and forth with the barest hint of forward movement. When they reach out, it is passionless, weak, and silent. The net effect is a sense of ever encroaching death, pervasive, persistent, inevitable. When classic horror fans bemoan the loss of the slow zombie, this is what they miss.

The leads are both solid, but special mention must be made of Prince David Oseia (is that his name or is he really a prince?), who I think steal the show.
If the film has any weakness it is that there is not much depth to be found. Zombie films are famous for working in satire and allegory, but The Dead, so far as I can tell, doesn’t play in that sandbox. Its telling a simpler tale, and while there is some attempt to add emotional resonance, it is so obvious, and is set up so late into the film, that it feels more than a little forced.

The film is a strong recommendation for any horror fan, but especially for fans of the classic zombie genre. I can’t wait to see what the Ford Brothers bring us next.

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