Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Foreign Fears: THE DEAD (2011) (a U.K. and West African joint production)

By Brian M. Sammons

Directors: Howard J. Ford, Jonathan Ford
Cast: Rob Freeman, Prince David Oseia

Thought I’d do something a little different today; a review of a movie not on Blu-ray or DVD, or at least not here in North America yet, but one that’s just hitting theaters in a limited release. The mere fact that I would do such a thing, something I never, ever do, should give you a bit of a clue on how I feel about this UK made, African set zombie flick. However I’m not here to be vague, so let me spell it out for you; THE DEAD is one of the best zombie movies made in years. Hell, it’s just an all-around good movie in every way, shape or form. The fact that it has zombies in it is just a bonus. Rarely have I been this pleased with a brand new movie, so allow me to share some of my joy with you.

In the war ravaged continent of Africa, the hell that man has made there for decades has just gotten a whole lot worse as the dead have begun to rise to attack the living. Sure, this is a very familiar story, but it is how that story is handled that makes all the difference in this film. Here the tale begins with an American Air Force mechanic on the last plane out of the blighted continent, but unfortunately for him the plane crashes. For our mechanic, surviving the crash is just the beginning because now he’s lost in the wilds of Africa with more flesh hungry zombies than you can shake a severed head at. Our costar of this movie is an African solider who leaves his post to go back and protect his wife and son. Well like any good zombie tale, there’s enough bad luck floating about for everyone and our solider returns home only to find that his village has been attacked by the undead, his wife eaten, and his son missing. A dying old woman tells him that his boy was taken to relative safety by a group of other soldiers. Eventually our two heroes meet and begin a dangerous journey over the beautiful, wild countryside, with the solider looking for his son and the American just looking for a way out of Africa.

A somewhat typical story, yes, but there are many things that makes this movie so damn good. First there are the slow, shambling, traditional undead, not the hyperactive, super athletes like many modern zombies. And while 28 DAYS LATER and the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake were great, I’ve always preferred the inescapable dread and doom that the slow zombie represents, and that is done to great effect in this movie. Take for example this scene; our Air Force Hero gets a car, but it gets stuck in the lucky-to-be-called-a- goat-trail he’s forced to travel. He gets out of the auto to fix it and he looks around, seeing several undead, but they are a good distance away, so he thinks he’s safe. He starts to work on the car, and the camera pans back to show that the silent, shuffling zombies are closer. The guy continues to work on the car…and the flesh eaters get closer. He drops a tool, goes to pick it up, and now there’s a zombie right next to him. No, he sees that there are five right on top of him, and more closing in. That is how it’s done, folks. That is a creepy and effective bit of horror. Now just how would that scene of suspense and tension have been made any better by a zombie sprinting out of the bushes like Jesse Owens and gibbering like the Tasmanian Devil?

Another thing that I loved about this film was the long moments of silence. For much of this movie both heroes are on their own, so who would they be talking to? No one, that’s who. Still, if this was a Hollywood flick, I can’t imagine the filmmakers having enough faith that the audience wasn’t a bunch of A.D.D. addled spazzes that has to have constant droning less they become bored, to allow the movie to shut the hell up just tell its story through visuals alone, like THE DEAD does. No, they probably would have resulted to inner narration if nothing else. I mean, do I really have to point out BLADE RUNNER here?

Perhaps the reason THE DEAD is comfortable with its moments of silence is that the visuals it has to offer are so beautiful and striking. I mean, were talking about Africa here. Sure it’s savage, wild, and sometimes desolate, but it’s breathtaking nonetheless. This beauty is well juxtaposed with the horror that’s happening all over and the rotting zombies that are causing said horror. I can honestly say that this movie is probably the best looking, most visually stunning and memorable zombie movie ever made. For that reason alone, to prove that horror films don’t always have to look cheap and dirty, you should see this movie.

Lastly there’s the normal movie stuff, like acting, direction, music and such, combined with the horror staple of gore, and THE DEAD gets all of that, and more, so right. Perhaps my one and only complaint with this movie was the (thankfully) infrequent use of CGI for gore gags such as bullet hits and the like. I guess such things are unavoidable these days, and at least the ones in this film range from good to ok, but I still don’t like them. I’d just like all films to get the video game graphics out of my movies, but I suppose that will never happen, so I guess I can’t really hold that against this otherwise great fright flick.

To quote one of my favorite Alice Cooper songs; I love THE DEAD. It’s got style, good acting, great moments of suspense, zombie gut munching, and a beautiful and unique setting that hasn’t already been done to death by dozens of other zombie flicks. I highly recommend seeing this movie if you’re lucky enough to have a theater near you showing it.

--Brian M. Sammons