The Dead is a zombie film for fans of the genre who have seen it all and want something different. Stripped of most zombie tropes we have become accustomed to over the last forty plus years, The Dead delivers a nuts and bolts look at the zombie apocalypse without the burden of such details as plot or character development. Instead, we get gore, extreme creepiness, a good dose of raw fear, and an incredible look at a location we in the west are rarely given the opportunity to see, West Africa.
Filmed in Burkina Faso and Ghana, English directors Howard J. and Jonathan Ford take the classic Romero zombie and places them into a gorgeous cinematic landscape. The story begins with pure carnage in a small village. The first thing that pops out to the viewer is how silent these undead are. There are no moans, no groans, no gaks…. these are the super slow shuffling zombies who have been muted. When they attack, there is no wild display of feeding, simply take a bite and chew… slowly chew… which is the one aspect of this film which has stuck with me the most. Watching the standard zombie noshing into the neck or belly of someone in abject terror has become horrifyingly mundane (unless you live under bridges in Miami)… watching someone silently walk up behind an armed military man, take a good sized bite of their arm or deltoids then calmly masticate that person with zero emotion may be the creepiest thing I have ever seen. The people who manage to escape becoming villager-tartar climb onto a military truck and get the hell out of Dodge… take note of the young boy who escapes the buffet.
On-board the final flight to the U.S., we meet Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freemen) who just wants to get out of Africa and get home to his wife and daughter. Once a bitten soldier reanimates and takes out someone on the flight, chaos ensues and the plane ditches into the ocean with only two survivors… one guy with his femur protruding from his thigh and Lt. Murphy. The beach is immediately populated by the shambling masses as Lt. Murphy desperately tries to open a crate containing weapons and femur guy becomes the latest in slow chewed food. From there, he makes his way to the aforementioned village… no survivors, only dark huts, and an abandoned truck… hood up and up on jacks with a tire missing. Yes… he actually changes the tire as zombies slowly and quietly creep up on him. Absolute tension.
Eventually he meets up with an African soldier, Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia), who is looking for his wife and son as well… they were in the village we saw in the first scene. Together, they overcome their differences and head out into the wilds of the African landscape in search of an airport for Murphy and Dembele’s family. That about covers everything.
There are no moans, no asshole who steals the weapons or keys and leaves the others to die only to be killed immediately, there are no big titted blondes, there are no jokes, no romantic interests, and very little bad dialogue… in fact, there is very little dialogue. As I mentioned at the beginning, this film ditches almost every zombie trope in favor of something stripped down and raw. Some, probably most, will find this movie boring and slow. I appreciated that aspect of the film. The scenery is stupendous, the moments of tension work well, and rarely do we see somebody do something completely stupid. When Murphy trees himself after seeing a zombie approach and accidentally drops his gun, he doesn’t scramble down in a panic able to get off one shot before being noshed on… he stays up in the tree until the undead thing moves on and calmly gets his weapon. Not stupid… shocking.
One complaint I have heard multiple times over the last few years as zombies have infested every corner of pop culture is the lack and/or quality of gore in many of the films that have been released lately. The Dead delivers some good old fashioned non-CGI gore to fantastic effect… nothing overly flashy, just classic horror. Just look at the wonderful effect white contacts can have (see the picture above)… nothing but pupil.
Can I recommend The Dead to everyone? No… I imagine most people would find this film lacking in a number of ways. Can I recommend this to horror and zombie fans? Absolutely. You may still share some of the complaints I mentioned, but I appreciated the complete lack of clutter and the bare boned approach to an overly familiar genre. I look forward to what the Ford brothers come up with next.
Cornelius J. Blahg
PS: Jason and Karen at The Walking Deadcast will be reviewing this film on their next podcast which is what prompted me to watch it. I would suggest listening to what they have to say about this film… if there are two people who know zombies, it is them. If you support Mr. Blahg, please consider supporting The Walking Deadcast (and by support I mean read and/or listen… these are free entertainments, all we ask for is a click and a like… even cheaper than a Coke and a smile). Thanks – CJB