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The Dead

A zombie horror movie directed by Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford

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THE DEAD: Killing Time on the Dark Continent

  • Mar 15, 2012
  • by
Rating:
+5

With the success of AMC’s recent outing with a serialized zombie drama (“The Walking Dead”), there’s been a chorus of folks – critics, mostly – crowing about how interest in stories involving zombies comes and goes over the years.  I think that’s incorrect.  I, on the other hand, maintain that there’s always been an interest in zombie pictures.  Why?  Because zombies are the perfect ‘scare’ for average folks, and average folks make up the bulk of the worldwide theatrical audience.  What could be more frightening that facing a mortal enemy you can’t reason with, you can’t outrun, you can’t outlast physically or emotionally?  Your only recourse is a bullet to the head (or some other similar trick to destroy the brain), and that becomes an increasingly personal attack: how close must the zombie be so you can accomplish that?  It’s a brilliant scare – certainly one that’s inspired countless variations on the theme – and audience hungry for a good fright can be easily convinced to sit through yet another zombie picture.
 
As a consequence, not all zombie pictures get a lot of thought.  Ones that do, however, truly rise to the occasion by presenting more than munching, crunching monsters.  No, these pictures are throwbacks, of a sort … theatrical fiction that doesn’t rely heavily on science or special effects … it becomes the ultimate journey for survival, and that’s exactly what Howard J. Ford and Jon Ford (the brother-writing-directing team) did with the exceptional THE DEAD.
 
The last evacuation flight out of Africa crashes into the water.  Its only survivor, an engineer named Brian Murphy (played with terrific conviction by Rob Freeman), decides to set out alone to return to civilization and his family.  He soon joins up with an African soldier (played by Prince David Osei), and, together, they come to grips with the bleak reality that, although the world is dying around them, they must confront their fears and continue their journey to reunite with their respective families … even if it means risking life and limb against zombies and Africa’s harshest elements.
 
Keeping that in mind, I think it’s important to stress that THE DEAD – at all times – takes a relatively minimalist approach to filmmaking.  In other words, if you’re looking for a burgeoning cast of characters, you won’t find it here … unless, of course, you’re thinking of crowds and crowds of zombies.  The two main characters – Murphy and Dembele – are all there is, and that’s certainly not a drawback.  This minimalist approach forced the Ford brothers to put great investment in writing believable characters, to keep speechifying to a minimum, and to capture this unique ‘survival kinship’ on screen.  They do so to great effect, and that’s also intended as a compliment to the actors; Freeman and Osei do terrific work in making these two lost souls seem real.  Think of this as a grim buddy picture, and it succeeds very well.
 
Thankfully, most of the effects here are all old school – designed, built, and shot to be in-camera effects – and that helps produce an incredible sense of realism to heighten the suspense.  These characters are not a group of scientists struggling to figure out how to technologically stop the plague wiping out our planet; these are individuals forced to adopt (and adapt) an increasingly rugged lifestyle in order to simply share a meal, have a drink of water, and live to enjoy one more sunset.  The story – as the advertising suggests – becomes a bit of a road picture – two folks braving the odds solely to get from Point A to Point B – and, on that level, THE DEAD retains an overwhelming aura of dread throughout.
 
Also, crafting this story to be set in Africa is no less an inspiration.  At times, the surroundings are as sparse as they are beautiful, as bountiful as they are deadly.  There are social challenges as well as environmental brought on by both of their identities, and it’s hard to figure out which challenge poses the greater risk: the zombies or the desert?  These are the slow, lumbering zombies.  Maybe – if you’re in great shape – you can outrun them, but you can’t outrun a desert, and therein lay the insight of setting this adventure where they did.  It automatically forced them to craft a story that would fit within very limiting parameters, and it undoubtedly made THE DEAD into something much more special than yet one more film set in an abandoned shopping mall.
 
Necessarily, the film was shot with a fairly earthy palette, so colors are understandly muted.  Sound is mostly crisp, though I found a few sequences a bit difficult to hear.  It could’ve been me, but I learned (from the commentary) that it was a difficult shoot that required a lot of audio re-recording subsequent to filming.  But, on that topic, it’s an amazingly charming commentary provided by the Ford brothers as they share insights about where the script came from and how it evolved over two decades; additionally, it’s balanced out with incredibly harrowing experiences of shooting the entire film on location in Africa, including nearly everyone on the cast and crew suffering malaria as well as having to pay off local warlords for the use of space and equipment!  There’s a brief ‘behind-the-scenes’ featurette and a deleted scene, but they pale in comparison to the strength and warmth of the wildly animated commentary.  Who knew that “melting zombie prosthetics” could ever be a tremendous obstacle to finishing a sequence?
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for lovers of thrillers and horror pictures.  ESPECIALLY RECOMMENDED for zombie purists who long for a genuinely exciting survival film.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Anchor Bay Entertainment provided me with a DVD screener copy for the expressed purposes of completing this review.

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March 15, 2012
I really enjoyed this one and yep, Ed, we are on the same wavelength again. I loved the fact that this happened in another continent, and the way it took on a serious tone. I need to check out the extras on the bluray.
March 15, 2012
The commentary is, actually, a lotta fun ... if you can get past the repeated instances of malaria that they all suffered!
 
March 15, 2012
Good review!
 
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More The Dead (film) reviews
review by . February 16, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Finally, After Some Years...A Really Good Zombie Survival Horror Epic!
The past few years, American zombie horror movies have since fallen into the area of mediocrity. Even the recent fan favorite “Zombieland” wasn’t all that great. Even the proclaimed zombie maestro George Romero (watch me get hate mail for this) have fallen with his “Survival of the Dead”. I looked into the pages of comic books and found the excellent zombie epic “The Walking Dead” but there really wasn’t that much in the way of cinema until the French …
review by . June 14, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****    "The Dead" possesses all the bare essentials of a zombie movie. That shouldn't be enough for it to succeed, yet here we are; with a respectable and well-made horror film with part-time elements of a road movie. Howard and Jonathan Ford (credited as The Ford Brothers) direct this familiar and not-so-original but nevertheless exciting take on the genre of the undead, demonstrating that they can uphold the task of making a few movies in one. Their film would not …
review by . October 26, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
ZOMBIE SURVIVAL FILM IS ONE OF TEH BETTER ONES
      THE DEAD      Zombie movies seem to be coming out like crazy over the last couple of years. And with the success of "The Walking Dead" on AMC I am sure they will continue to come out. For me personally I love it and if this film is a sign of things to come then thank you "Walking Dead". I say that because it seems like more serious zombie films are being made. Don't get me wrong I like most of the horrible ones but I love the …
Quick Tip by . October 26, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
This is not really a horror movie per say as it is much more a survival film and a really good one at that. I have to give credit to writer/director Ford Brothers for going with the less is more type of thinking here. Of course budget may have dictated that but still.
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Ed ()
Ranked #13
What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops".   … more
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Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Release Date: 2012
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Howard J. Ford, Jonathan Ford
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
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