Directed by the Ford Brothers
The Ford brothers’ assured zombie movie The Dead premiered at London’s Frightfest film festival last week, in a programme that was dominated by revenge themed tales it was fun to catch a a more traditionally-minded horror movie, the film is at once a carefully crafted homage to a ghastly pedigree of eidolon cinema and a moody take on the sub-genre which hauls events to freshly moldering heights. After the repeated disappointments of Godfather George’s recent entries to the canon, the opportunity to recommend a genuinely gruesome zombie film is a relief, and what The Dead may lack in terms of social commentary it compensates for in terms of atmosphere and carnage. Against the prevalence of vampires in genre cinema, the zombie movie as a sub-genre may not have expired yet…
Yes, it’s Armageddon time again and activities have been transported from the traditional milieu of the urban jungle to the arid swathes of East Africa, as you’d expect the reanimated corpses of the dead are arising to feast on the flesh of the living, a decimation of the species due to plague, curse or medical mishap, no-one is sure is struggling to find out. After a hasty, panic fuelled army flight ditches into the sea adjacent to the East African coast Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman), a military engineer who finds himself as the only survivor of his unit. After fighting his way through a relentless horde of the ravenous undead he meets a fellow survivor, Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia), a soldier for the local government who is seeking his family, whom he is sure have been relocated to a distant refugee camp. Seeking safety in numbers and understanding that two doubles the firepower and vigilance, they team up to traverse the deadly wilderness. While The Dead is not quite aiming for the buddy cop ethos of the Lethal Weapon series an uneasy camaraderie develops between the two survivors as they both learn to trust and rely on each other in order to survive and reach safety.
Here’s a zombie movie made for the fans, with a pair of heroes who have clearly devoured their copies of the Zombie Survival handbook before the cataclysm struck. Ammo is rationed and corpses are looted for essential survival items. Constant surveillance and careful reconnaissance of new areas is the default activity. Headshots are always employed and careful retreat from overwhelming odds is the order of the day. What is most impressive about The Dead is its languid, acrid texture; it is a very atmospheric tale of the re-animated dead which hearkens back to the early days of Fulci and Romero. It has a somnolent pace that is well meshed with a sense of a perpetual, excruciating threat, and almost every scene throughout the film’s entire running (or should that be lurching?) time features a shambling corpse remorselessly seeking its next meal, and as we all know one cadaver will shortly be accompanied by two, then four then eight accomplices in an accelerating, infectious dread that is homogeneous throughout the film. It is also the most consistently grisly movie of the festival, with much of its beautiful African landscapes in sharp opposition to the corpse-littered veldt, hellish imagery that recalls the news footage of the Rwandan and associated massacres. The film does have some pacing issues and perhaps a little more attention could have been given to the characters of Brian and Daniel other than a simple reunion with their family plot driver – they both function as little more than ciphers which fail to generate any emotional investment in their fate. Nevertheless, The Dead’s unusual setting, its despondent aura and gentle genre adoration is certain to net it some kudos and fans amongst the horror community. Highly recommended.