Written and Directed by: Howard J. Ford, Jonathan Ford
Starring: Rob Freeman, Prince David Oseia and David Dontoh
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
The Ford Brothers must have decided that every conceivable ďof The DeadĒ title was already taken, so theyíve simply titled their zombie movie The Dead. This is just as well, as a film so flat and generic deserves a title thatís just so, as The Dead features the umpteenth zombie apocalypse with the umpteenth military men who unleash umpteen headshots over the course of a bloated 105 minute run-time. Simply put, The Dead is a film that youíve probably seen many times before, often done better, often done worse, with this one falling squarely in the middle because it refuses to really offer many new ideas or innovations to a genre thatís been feasting off of the corpse of Romeroís Dead series for about a decade now.
This particular apocalypse has ravaged the entire continent of Africa; in the skies overhead, the last evacuation transport carrying out foreigners crashes just off the coast. The only survivor is air force engineer Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman), who suddenly finds himself surrounded by the walking dead. Heís eventually joined by a native sergeant Daniel Dembele (Prince David Osei), a man also on the run since his village was torn apart. These two find that theyíre both looking to reconnect with their families, with the formerís being back in the States, while the latter has been separated from his son. Brian has a vehicle, Daniel has knowledge of a way station that can allow them to possibly communicate with the outside world.
So they hit the dusty trails and turn this into a bit of a road movie where the only drama is forcibly stuffed in whenever the two must stop. Even then, The Deadís zombies are some of the most relaxed in recently memory--these are the type that do just shuffle and shamble around, meaning the characters sometimes are able to calmly escape simply by getting into their car and driving off. I suppose that is a bit refreshing in a sense now that I think of it, but, as you might guess, the big plot complication here is that they eventually lose access to their car. Really, thatís all The Dead is: a series of pit stops that find our duo poking around in the woods or in old shacks, waiting for zombies to screech out of the darkness for quick jolts that are usually followed by some impressive splatter effects. Occasionally, they meet up with people along the way, which gives them to opportunity to rehash their plight when they arenít bonding over that mutual plight (with one scene involving a necklace being so on-the-nose that you can almost guess what the final image of the film will be).
Of course, the film becomes a bit of an obvious parable since zombie movies canít be completely brain-dead, and the requisite social commentary here involves the typical themes of tolerance and cooperation. If The Dead even remotely deviates from the course at all, itís in the way the two main characters never really engage in any distrust or fiery conflicts; I think they slightly scuffle at one point over how to proceed, but thatís about it. For once, it was nice to avoid these beats, even if you can slightly feel them rumbling beneath the surface. The most obvious subtext here is racial in nature--one is a white American, the other a native African, so itís tapping into the same well Romero was drawing from over 40 years ago. The Dead at least flips the script by surrounding the white man in a foreign land, but it does precious little with the concept; figuring out how the undead themselves operate also offers some moderately intriguing avenues that similarly go unexplored. I suppose the whole thing is probably a metaphor for how Africa actually is ravaged by disease and genocide, so the image of this helpless American soldier plopped into the middle of something he doesnít understand is quite relevant.
The two leads here are fine--I think the film believes in their deep bond more so than viewers will, which is a shame because the effectiveness of The Dead hinges on how much sympathy you can muster up for a couple of flat military grunts, both of whom are injected with a modicum of dignity by each actor. Just about everything about The Dead is middle of the road, save for some impressive technical prowess--the film is impressively shot with sandblasted, sun-drenched cinematography that captures huge, expansive vistas to give this a bit of a Western feel. The rugged, unforgiving landscapes are arguably as much of an obstacle as the title characters, as you can almost feel the oppressive heat beating down on these two guys. Plus, the gore effects are nicely done, with one noteworthy gag crushing a zombieís head as if it were a watermelon. Some of the designs are also strikingly minimalist and recall the bulbous, bug-eyed undead of I Walked With a Zombie. None of the technical aspects rescue the film from its all too familiar trappings, but they keep it from being an altogether empty experience, even though the script does its best to pound you with nihilism at times.
It probably sounds like I truly disliked The Dead, which probably isnít entirely accurate; itís one of those films where I can see the seeds of good ideas that never sprout, so weíre left with an arid, mechanical film whose plot points couldnít be more telegraphed if the script were actually wired to you. You can check it out for yourself now that Anchor Bayís released it to DVD and Blu-ray; having sampled the standard def offering, I can say Anchor Bay did the film justice, presentation wise since it looks and sounds fantastic. Among the special features are a commentary with the Ford Brothers, a behind-the-scenes look, and a deleted scene. One of the problems here is that there perhaps arenít more deleted scenes--thereís a lot of bloat on The Dead, which only helps to make it feel like a film that would have felt perfunctory in 2007, much less now. If youíve exhausted the great (or even just the above-average) undead well or have played through Resident Evil 5 (which is still the definitive word on African zombies) a dozen times, The Dead should be the next stop if you must continue trudging through this genre. Rent it!
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