The Dead (2011)

Yep. Another zombie film. In the past ten years we have been inundated with zombie films, riding on a wave still popularized by Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later and the Dawn remake. Since then there’s been a cavalcade of undead flicks, from the fun (Dance of the Dead) and the flaccid (Boy Eats Girl) to the insane (Bong of the Dead) and the truly appalling (Zombie Undead), but there has been very little that reaches the heights of those seminal few.

Being noticed for quality in a market as rammed as the zombie subgenre does require something fresh and stunning, and The Dead provides it. How? It’s set in Africa.

American Lieutenant Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) is having a bad day. Whilst serving as an air force engineer in Africa, a zombie outbreak turns everyone into brain-hungry cannibal psychopaths and he escapes on the last plane out of the undead zone.  Tragically the plane is low on fuel and the pilot low on competence and they crash into the ocean.

Crawling from the wreckage and onto a beach, Murphy finds himself on the edge of a continent freshly overrun with zombies, and his new mission is to escape Africa and get back to his wife and kid. Navigating Africa’s harsh terrain is difficult enough without a horde of ravenous undead trying to eat you, and Murphy is lucky to run into Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia) a soldier looking for his son. Avoiding the rogue and ruthless army and thousands of African zombies, these two men from very different cultures must negotiate their way to nearest safe haven… which is over 100 miles away.

The Dead is exceptional. Despite re-treading very worn ground in plotting terms – a disparate group seek a mythical sanctuary during a zombie apocalypse – it is the setting and the characters that make this a truly original piece. It is worth noting that this isn’t the mildly racist Africa we see in Resident Evil 5, but a layered, believable and endless Africa full of believable people and a vastness rarely seen in a zombie apocalypse film.

Most zombie flicks confine us to a few locations (like Night of the Living Dead) or into a sprawling urban landscape (like Last of the Living) full of dark alleyways and houses to hide in. The Dead forces our protagonists into the open, into a vast nothingness of trees, rocks, mud, grass and the shambling undead, and this makes for a much more tense and unique experience. Nowhere is safe and it keeps a feeling of dread going that normally disappears at the midpoint of most zombie horrors. There is no safety, even in their clapped-out car, and as night draws near you realise exactly how dark the African wilderness can get…

What Africa also provides Howard and Jonathan Ford (writer / directors of The Dead) with is a beautiful landscape. The Dead features awe-inspiring silhouettes and breathtaking openness, almost like some shots were actually made for the African Tourist Board, albeit with zombies! The Ford Brothers should be proud of this achievement – a beautiful and horrifying zombie film.

This endless landscape is also tragically one of The Dead’s minor faults, as it’s difficult to fathom the scale of Murphy and Dembele’s journey, meaning there’s a lack of real escalation as the film goes on. It’s always bleak and always dangerous and always terrifying, but it never feels like things are getting worse or better, like a road trip without the mile markers. This is minor issue, however, and only one that really hits you on hindsight – all the scenes blur into one muddled experience, but it’s still an excellent experience nonetheless.

Acting wise it’s mostly a two-hander between Rob Freeman and Prince David Oseia and they do exceptionally well in their given roles. The acting is naturalistic, underplayed and full of hidden depth and strength. You believe them and – essentially – want to follow them on their journey from hell to salvation, and everything in between.

The Dead is a thoroughly enjoyable, exciting, interesting and compelling zombie horror. Brutal, tense and ultimately very well created, the Ford Brothers have revitalised an otherwise flagging genre. See this movie – The Dead is awesome.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

One Comment on “The Dead”

  1. Jess says:

    I completely agree with your review.

    The Dead is definitely a must see; a moving and emotional movie – not much more I can say as you’ve said it all perfectly above.

    Great review!

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