THE DEAD (2011) Review

Directed by: Howard J. Ford, Jonathan Ford
Starring: Rob Freeman, Prince David Oseia

I'll start by saying that this is not your typical zombie movie. If you're looking for a fast paced movie with huge hordes of undead and buckets of gore, then you might be a little disappointed. That's not to say that there weren't plenty of zombies and head shots in THE DEAD, but it is a lot different to films like the Dawn of the Dead remake. I guess you could say it's a more serious and mature zombie film, and as a matter of fact it probably more accurately fits into the same category as those apocalyptic road movies like The Road, where the main characters are on a long journey facing threats along the way. It's definitely a very bleak and desolate film, which is helped immensely by the location. It was shot primarily in Burkina Faso, Africa and the wide open landscape ranges from sandy deserts to mountain ranges. But no matter where the two main companions travel, the undead are waiting for them.

American Airforce Engineer Lieutenant Brian Murphy (Freeman) was on the last evacuation plane out of Africa after the dead started coming back to life. Unfortunately they were attacked before the plane was properly prepared, and consequently it crashes into the ocean just off the coast. Murphy washes up on a beach and is immediately set upon the the undead. After fighting his way from the beach he comes across a small abandoned community and finds a partially taken apart ute. Being an engineer, he quickly has the ute back together just as the zombies catch up with him. He takes off through the scrub and eventually gets stuck, but is helped out by an African soldier named Daniel (Oseia). The two don't get along so well to begin with, but realizing that they're better off working together they travel together.
While Brian is trying to find a way out of the continent, Daniel has a different problem. His village was attacked by the zombies and his wife was killed. His son however was among the survivors, and Daniel believes him to be at a military base in the north. After finding a small airport with no planes or helicopters in sight, Brian accepts that his best chance will be to follow Daniel to the military base. They continue their journey while fighting off the undead and trying their best to survive.

I know it probably doesn't sound like a really interesting story, but the emphasis isn't on the actual plot itself, but rather the two main characters and their quest. While at first they seem suspicious and wary of each other, they soon form a friendship and come to depend on each other. The movie does move at a bit of a slow pace, but it is steady and I never found myself bored. And even though the emphasis is on storytelling and character development, there is still enough gore and terror to satisfy most horror fans. The night scenes in particular, where the headlights of the ute suddenly wash across a zombie on the road are really kind of creepy and claustrophobic. And there are enough of those panicky moments too, like when the radiator overheats and the zombies are advancing from all around. And for a low budget film, the attention to detail that has gone into this is pretty amazing. The make-up fx are excellent (no CGI here), and I heard that they even used amputees to play some of the zombies. Another thing that makes THE DEAD stand out is the fact that it wasn't filmed digitally, but rather on old fashioned 35mm film, and you can really see the difference.

I'm going to make a bold statement here and say that THE DEAD might just be the best zombie film I've seen since Romero's Night of the Living Dead. It's definitely worth a watch, and is a personal favorite film of the year so far. I'd give it full marks except that I found Rob Freeman's acting to be not the best, and there were maybe a couple of scenes which were a little slow.

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