THE DEAD (2010) - A Review
For clarity: In 1987, John Huston released a film called The Dead. This is not about that film.
Anyway, my wife and I just saw a film from 2010, called The Dead, and it's a fabulous, old school zombie movie set in, and filmed in, Africa. It was written and co-directed by the Ford Brothers, Jonathan and Howard, and if you like zombies and haven't seen this, get going. It's good. Very good. And as someone who loves zombie movies, I feel somewhat foolish for never having even heard of it until recently.
First, some of the technical basics. As mentioned above, this is an old school, classic style zombie film, with slow shuffling zombies, not the rabid, running kind that have become the norm. Personally, I find zombies frightening because they're slow. It's the whole idea of creeping dread. You can run and run and run...But whenever you finally stop running, they're still there. Ever...so...slowly...gaining...on...you. Modern fast zombies are less fear-inducing, or at least less distinctive. I run, you run, in The Night of the Lepus giant bunny rabbits run. Any lunatic in a movie can run. But only zombies have the creepy confidence to simply shuffle.
Also, The Dead was shot on real, honest to goodness 35mm film, and most of the effects were done in camera, and without a lot of CGI. This, combined with the amazing locations (Ghana and Burkina Faso) make this film a sort of beautiful/dreadful travelogue. I don't know if the press about this being the first zombie movie shot (almost entirely) in Africa is true or not, but some of the landscapes captured are truly breathtaking.
It's a good thing the visuals are as compelling as they are, because much of The Dead passes by without much if any dialogue. Certainly very little of the plot is actually dialogue driven - the story is told pictorially and through the actions of the characters. This is not a weakness, but rather a testament to the skill that the Ford Brothers brought to the project.
Like George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), this film just sort of jumps right in: The dead are coming back to life, and things look bad, very bad. No explanation is given for this, or even attempted; it's just a given. And, like in NOTLD, the zombies seem to be everywhere.
But much of The Dead plays out like an inverted version of NOTLD. Whereas in the earlier film, the main character is a black man (Duane Jones), trapped in a single house and surrounded by mostly white zombies, here, the main character is a white man (Rob Freeman) who is at sea in the wide open spaces of Africa, surrounded by mostly black zombies. (Though there is a nice bit - no pun intended - with some white missionaries.) Just as it was impossible not to read some sort of political statement into Romero's film in 1968, it's also impossible not to ponder what political messages the Ford Brothers may have been trying to insert in their film. Certainly the sight of a white man running around Africa shooting black people (even if they are zombies) is one intended to rouse some sort of broader discussion.
Whatever the case though, politics or not, I really enjoyed this movie. Though it might seem like it would be a more tense and terrifying situation to be trapped in a house surrounded by zombies, I think this film makes a good case for the extreme terror that can come from wide open spaces. Where do you take shelter? Where do you sleep? What's behind that tree, over that hill, around that corner...There's no real relief from the tension. And there's almost always someone or something shuffling around in the background, getting closer, slowly closer...
And speaking of getting closer...Now that we've seen this, and enjoyed it so much, my wife and I very much look forward to seeing the sequel the Ford Brothers have made, The Dead: India (2013). We watched the trailer online - it looks pretty amazing, too! Go, Fords! I can't wait to see what country they visit next.