Friday, July 6, 2012

The Dead (2010) - A Slow Zombie Flick

The Dead (2010) - A Slow Zombie Flick

I stumbled across this one a while back at the local Hastings and the other day I spotted a used copy for $7.50 which was hard to resist (especially when paired with the "buy two get a third for $1" deal Hastings had going). Anyway, it was a pretty decent zombie flick, and I thought I'd provide a short capsule review for those interested in seeing an otherwise little-known zombie film that manages to be a bit better than the norm.

The Dead's plot focuses around the usual "day after the outbreak" sort of environment, with Air Force engineer Lt. Brian Murphy surviving a plane crash on the last evacuating flight out of an unnamed African country. The movie focuses on his survival in a harsh, arid African environment filled with shuffling zombies. He eventually meets an awol African soldier named Sgt. Daniel Dembele, and the two pair up to survive. The film's plot revolves around their efforts to keep alive, find a way out, and locate Dembele's son whom he learned survived and was taken to a refuge camp in the north. Like all good zombie flicks, the tale is all about survival.

The Dead has the distinction of returning to the world of Romero Zombies...and in fact these zombies appear to be even slower than normal (although it could just be that I haven't watched a good slow-shuffling zombie flick in a while). Much of the film's tension comes less from avoiding the zombies and more for dealing with problems that force the protagonists to slow down and focus on a time-consuming localized task. Fixing the truck, searching for supplies, finding water, trying to sleep....all stuff which becomes hazardous when you have roving gangs of shuffling zombies slowly yet inexhorably closing in on you.

About the only time the film really forced my suspension of disbelief was during one portion that ushers in the end sequence. Without giving away too much (spoiler alert from here on out) I have to say that the slow and methodical zombies of this film don't strike me as particularly threatening to a strong and disciplined military base; when the cut scenes during the radio conversation happen, it induced a sort of "fridge logic" moment for me later when I realized that while very little about what was transpiring elsewhere in the world was revealed, they probably could have included a few exra scenes that helped to establish better just how bad things were, if only because these zombies are so unbelievably slow that the notion they might pose a threat to a well-armed military base seems bit far fetched on the surface. Then again, I'm sure there was a limited budget for the film, so that might have been beyond its scope; plus, the idea that no amount of bullets can prepare you for a situation in which 95% of the world population has been zombified is a sort of primary conceit of these films, so overall this is a very minor nitpick.

The film hints at a few things without ever divulging any information. There's an appearance by a tribal shaman, with the subtle implication that perhaps the zombie plague was brought forth supernaturally, to force the warring factions in the unnamed African country to unite together against the threat of the undead. The suggestion of bigger and badder things happening worldwide goes unanswered until the end of the film, at which time one would not be remiss in assuming that on some level this film is taking place in the "Romeroverse" shared by Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead and Land of the Dead. There's nothing in The Dead that doesn't fit perfectly within that realm, and if one studies the technology in the film it's hard not to notice that the film makers seem (as best I can tell) to have excluded modern technology entirely. Admittedly, this is a remote African country where everyone lives in squalor, but I don't even recall seeing any recent tech on the airplane at the start of the film, let alone later on in odd spots like the house of the missionary family, the airfield or even the damaged radio equipment toward the end. I could be wrong, but it was an interesting notion. Either way, its nice to get through one contemporary film without seeing a cell phone.

The Dead is worth watching if you are willing to put the time in for a slow-paced zombie survival flick that takes its time establishing a methodical pacing and sense of measured, perpetual menace where you never quite feel a sense of immediate worry for the abnormally competent protagonists; it's not until they start to wear down, run low on supplies, and desperation starts to kick in that the overarching threat of the environment and its flesh eaters really becomes apparent. For some viewers this film will feel too slow and focused; for others, it will be a welcome relief from the sprinting zombies and frenetic plots of other recent films.

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