Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Zombie Violence and Gore
Directed by: Howard J. Ford & Jon Ford
Written by: Howard J. Ford & Jon Ford
Starring: Rob Freeman, Prince David Oseia, David Dontoh & Ben Crowe
Zombie films have been done to death, pun intended. It seems like almost every week another backyard zombie film is hitting the shelves of Wal-Mart or appearing on Netflix Instant. At any rate, this over saturation of zombie films has led to filmmakers really having to push the boundaries or do something fresh if they wish to stand out in this walking dead subgenre (see what I did there?). THE DEAD got a huge amount of steam when it began premiering at genre film festivals in 2010. Lo and behold, it went on to have a limited theatrical release, found a successful market on home video and even has a sequel on the festival circuit. I would argue that THE DEAD is not a special zombie film. In fact, it’s a rather mediocre one that happens to take place in an unusual setting. To put it bluntly, if this wasn’t a zombie film made in Africa, then it wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much attention or praise.
The zombie apocalypse has begun in Africa and Brian Murphy is an engineer struggling to survive it. He was one of the many trying to flee the continent and the sole person to walk away from a plane crash that has left him stranded. Barely staying alive long enough to get to shore, he equips himself with whatever supplies he can grab in a hurry. On foot, Murphy finds companionship in an African soldier, who has abandoned his troop in order to find his missing son. The two are faced with overwhelming odds of getting to a safe haven military base, let alone surviving in the desert against a huge amount of walking corpses. That’s pretty much the whole plot right there. It’s just a typical zombie movie set in a land unfamiliar to this flesh-eating subgenre.
THE DEAD has a few respectable things going for it. A nice thick blanket of quiet dread covers the first half, along with a few damn scary moments. One scene is nothing short of terrifying. To get a legitimate jump out of me is a hard task, but this one moment was so well-executed that it worked perfectly. It’s an equally hard task to make slow-moving zombies frightening again, especially since we’ve seen the running kind in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake. Something also needs to be said of the gorgeous locations, because that is truly what separates THE DEAD from many other low-budget zombie efforts. However, these only count for so much, especially when there are plenty of problems littered throughout.
The main faults come with other qualities of the film. For one, the acting is shaky at best. Rob Freeman’s best scenes come from when he doesn’t have anything to say. The man can carry out tension well and is convincing in the quiet moments, but it’s lost when he delivers any dialogue at all. This is partially from things coming out of his mouth being overly familiar tripe from every zombie film ever made, but mostly because the man is wooden. His character is a hollow vessel that merely gets the viewer from one situation to another. While Prince David Oseia isn’t too much better, his character at least comes off as half-way convincing. The zombies are scary enough, but the chills are lost when we see cheap rubber limbs being thrown around or the one really annoying piece of unconvincing CGI.
Even with some bad acting, there was some real promise going for the first half of THE DEAD. The film loses steam as it goes along, mainly because these characters aren’t given a whole lot to do. They talk, they drive, they might run into some convenient situation or another person, and then they run into zombies. Rinse, lather, repeat. It’s the same formula over and over and over again. This approach downsizes what may have been a cool story. Some filmmaking techniques don’t help either. Just because you can do something on film, doesn’t mean you should. THE DEAD reeks of the Ford brothers saying “look what we learned in film school.” We get some ultra-quick editing (I couldn’t even make out what was happening in a couple of scenes) and some cheesy slow-motion shots that go way too far over-the-top.
There are positive qualities to THE DEAD. The first half of the film is pretty well-executed as far as tension and scares go. One scene worked wonders, but it’s not worth sitting through the whole movie to see that one awesome sequence. Gorgeous cinematography makes the most of the unique backdrop. With all this aside, the acting is pretty bad and the film loses a lot of its best qualities after the hour mark. The ending is as cliché as one might expect. THE DEAD winds up being a fairly standard zombie film in almost all respects, with the exception that it’s set in Africa.