“Zombies, man. They creep me out.” So says Dennis Hopper’s ruthless despot in George A. Romero’s Land Of The Dead. He’s not wrong. We love to be scared by the walking dead. There’s just something intrinsically scary about a mindless automaton that wants to rip you apart and chow down on your brains.
Right now, we’re going through something of a Zombie renaissance with Brad Pitt currently shooting the apocalyptic World War Z in, of all places, Glasgow (who’s gonna notice when the Apocalypse hits Glasgow?) and This Life’s Andrew Lincoln proving himself a good Egg on TV in AMC’s The Walking Dead while a big-budget adaptation of Regency romance/horror mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is also on the way. No matter how many times we shoot it in the head the Zombie genre keeps getting up and coming after us.
Borrowing it’s setting from Capcom’s first-person shooter Resident Evil 5, Howard and Jonathan Ford’s film The Dead has your usual Zombie Apocalypse hit Africa, with the last UN aid workers and Western military personnel fleeing an unnamed African state in a crippled plane which promptly crashes into the ocean, marooning sole survivor, American soldier Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Bowman) deep in Zombie country. As the local army fight a losing battle against the peckish undead hordes, Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia) deserts his post, determined to find and save his lost son. When Dembele saves Murphy’s life, the two men join forces, determined to make it across country to the small airbase that may offer hope and a last chance of survival. All they have to do is fight their way through several hundred miles of ravenous zombies…
A solid, old-school Zombie flick, despite its low budget, The Dead drips style (and a fair amount of viscera), the African location creating an atmospheric sense of place and the hypnotic cinematography echoing Richard Stanley’s hallucinatory Dust Devil. Opening with dreamy scenes of carnage as the shambling dead attack the living and are slaughtered by a Kalashnikov and machete-wielding Bowman appearing out of a heat haze like Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia and a ferocious night attack on Dembele’s village, the film creates and maintains an almost feverish state of tension which unfortunately never quite pays off, the film fizzling out in it’s final third.
While it has great attention to detail (a zombie stumbling along on broken legs) and genre fans will no doubt be pleased by the slow, shambling nature of the zombies (though I’ve always found the running zombies from Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later scarier. And yes geeks, 28 Days Later is a Zombie film regardless of Danny Boyle’s whiny protestations), The Dead offers little new, content to stumble the same well-shuffled path of every other Zombie flick of the last thirty years towards its ambiguously bleak/hopeful end. Bowman and, particularly, Oseia are both good, convincingly ordinary everymen just trying to survive but once the Fords have put them together and aimed them toward the airbase, they and the film have no place to go other than the now familiar hack, slash, shoot, repeat.
Flawed and familiar, The Dead is still an ambitious piece of horror that escapes its low-budget limitations and strives for greatness. Tense and haunting, it’s the best Zombie movie being released this week.
Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford
Rob Freeman, Prince David Oseia, Stephen Asare Amaning, Kwesi Asmah, Anne Davaud
Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford