The Dead (2010)
"The feeding begins"
An American mercenary is the sole survivor of a plane crash of the final evacuation plane out of west Africa after the area has become overrun by zombies. Teaming up with a sergeant from a local army contingent who had gone AWOL to look for his son, the two men have to run the gauntlet across Africa, battling with the living dead at every step of the way in their search for a way out.
The 00s was a hotbed for the zombie revival, in no small part due to the big screen successes of the likes of 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead. But quality zombie films were few and far between, particularly in the straight-to-video market. It seemed like almost anyone who wanted to make a zombie film for a quick buck was able to do so, getting together a few mates and shooting some scenes in their local towns and cities or out in the woods somewhere and pretend that the world had ended. Limited scope, limited budget. The Dead appeared to be another one off the production line but promised to go one step further, proclaiming to be set in Africa - the sceptic in me wondered if that was just a gimmick and in reality the cast would just be shuffling around in buildings for the majority of the running time.
Surprisingly, The Dead was really shot in Africa and what a massive difference to the general feel of the film. Shooting on location in Burkina Faso and Ghana lends a different flavour to the routine genre tropes and certainly gives the film a much grander scale and scope than would have been expected from such a low budget offering. The dry, desert plains of Africa really give the protagonists an extra opponent to deal with, as the heat and dust try to take their toll as much as the zombies do, and the camera allows the audience to soak in as much of this beautiful but inhospitable landscape as possible. However, whilst The Dead looks visually absorbing, there’s little going on underneath the surface that you haven’t seen before. That may or may not be a bad thing depending on what your experience with the walking dead is.
The Dead is a road trip zombie film, where the story is really limited to the two men driving for a bit, stopping off for petrol, food or shelter, encountering the zombies at said stop, and then getting in the car and driving off again. That’s pretty much it for the entire film and it gets deathly repetitive. There are large swathes of the film where the characters don’t speak and simply drive, with background zombies walking in and out of the shot. I get that there’s only so much room the writers had to come up with scenarios to keep the plot interesting when the film is set in the middle of nowhere, but The Dead really need something to keep things fresh. The slow pace is more of a hinderance than a help as the film is literally just a ‘go from Point A to Point B’ film and so the slower it takes to get there, the less interesting everything is.
The two lead actors do their best, but it is not their fault that the script doesn’t really give them much to work with to develop their trust and relationship as the story goes along. Since they’re the only two real characters, you’d expect the script to delve into more of their past and create more of an emotional connection with the audience. But it doesn’t and they’re just as thinly-sketched out by the end of the film as they are at the start – it’s a relationship of convenience rather than anything else and as such they don’t really want to get to know each other. Neither man brings any urgency to the role though and they don’t have enough screen presence to want you to invest in them either.
The Dead features the old school Romero-type zombies which shuffle about and walk very slowly. You’d think that this wouldn’t pose much of a threat somewhere as big as Africa, with thousands and thousands of miles of open land to escape into, but the danger always comes from those moments the characters let their guards down a bit and become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. Aside from a few zombies with decent make-up applied to make them appear older and rotting, the bulk of them are just your generic ‘bit of face paint, contact lenses and blood dripping from mouth’ variety. It’s a more traditionally shot horror film too, discarding the unnecessary shaky-cam and rapid-fire editing and allowing the camera to wallow in the horror a little longer, which makes the encroaching zombies appear scarier than they have for a long time. There’s something just more unsettling about watching these slow-moving zombies continue a relentless march towards their prey and not have the ability to sprint or do a spot of parkour as some modern zombie films have their creatures do.
Aside from its fantastic location, which really goes a long way to freshening things up, The Dead is standard issue zombie fodder. It’s far too dull and plodding for its own good and the moments of action and excitement are too few and far between to make any real impression. Worth a look if you want some old school zombie action with a modern slant.
Director(s): Howard J. Ford, Jonathan Ford
Writer(s): Howard J. Ford, Jonathan Ford
Actor(s): Rob Freeman, Prince David Osei, David Dontoh, Ben Crowe, Glenn Salvage, Dan Morgan
Duration: 105 mins