Just when you think it’s becoming more and more impossible to churn out a zombie movie that has a slightly different angle on the situation along comes a zombie movie with a slightly different angle on the situation. The Dead is a very impressive, unassuming little horror movie fully deserving of all the praise it has been receiving since its release.
The main reason it works so well is because of the setting, the barren and arid lands of Africa. If it seems almost too easy to avoid a bunch of zombies in a shopping mall while you stay stocked up on food and beverages a la Dawn Of The Dead then imagine how difficult it is to stay ahead of the undead in a harsh landscape that leaves you tired, hot and dehydrated while hungry corpses just keep shambling ever-forward, only stopping when they get you between their teeth. This is the horrible predicament that American Lieutenant Brian Murphy finds himself in after surviving a crash of the last plane to attempt leaving the area. He gains company in the form of local man Sergeant Daniel Dembele but that still leaves them heavily outnumbered whenever the zombies stumble onto their path.
Written and directed by the Ford brothers (Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford), this is a mature and sombre addition to the booming catalogue of zombie movies. These ghouls don’t run, they’re often damaged and slow enough to skirt around but they just keep on coming with no concern for shade or water. Meanwhile, our protagonists have to cope with their surroundings and even an overheated truck engine can make for moments of tension while difficult decisions are made – do they use precious water to get the engine running again and do they even have time to so the job?
The acting is solid and believable from everyone involved. Rob Freeman carries most of the movie and his character is really put through the wringer. You can see every emotion running through his mind as every bead of sweat glistens on his weather-beaten brow. Prince David Oseia does equally well with his screen time and the two men convey a wholly understandable bond that is forged quickly under extreme circumstances.
The movie doesn’t rush things, it’s essentially a film that shows some people trying to get from A to B with some additional, flesh-eating obstacles in their way, but it doesn’t often feel too slow either, with the exception of a short spell in the middle of the movie. Comparable to the equally impressive Stake Land, this uses a world beset by a supernatural problem to ground moments of pain and violence throughout. The effects are top notch but they’re not the focus of the film. The sedate camera moves take in the natural beauty of Africa while also floating past numerous, dead-eyed zombies and making sure that viewers never forget the ever-present threat.
I can’t remember the last time I willed a leading movie character to go on through such a seemingly bleak and hopeless situation and I think that tells you just how effective The Dead is. It deserves to find an audience among discerning horror fans.
The Dead is out on DVD and Blu-ray here in the UK on Monday 10th October.
WRITER/DIRECTORS: HOWARD J. FORD, JONATHAN FORD
STARS: ROB FREEMAN, PRINCE DAVID OSEIA, BEN CROWE, DAN MORGAN
RUNTIME: 105 MINS APPROX