While I have an undeniable soft spot in my heart for the flesh eating undead, the zombie genre has been a bit overworked lately with projects (whether in film, TV, or books) of varying degrees of quality. Let's face it, the walking dead are everywhere! I'm certainly not complaining, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to find entertainment that still feels fresh and vital. Brothers Howard and Jon Ford, however, have come up with a surprisingly effective survival story in "The Dead" that looks great, feels different, and yet still honors the old school traditions of the classic Romero zombie. It's a simple film, almost minimalist in fact, that doesn't utilize a lot of expository dialogue or develop a grandiose plot. It simply puts you into a realistic scenario set in the barren environment of rural Africa. The desolate country and atmospheric quiet of the film begs the question "Where do you escape to if there's nowhere to go?"
The film introduces us to Rob Freeman as the lone American survivor of an evacuation plane's crash. Crossing the war-torn country, there simply appears to be no end to the horde of undead. He meets up with a local soldier who is attempting to locate his missing son, and the two forge an unlikely friendship and alliance. The film doesn't attempt to explain why the country is overrun with zombies, and it offers little backstory or actual character development. Instead, it showcases the two men as they travel the countryside looking for any sign of hope. If you are looking for non-stop action and carnage, this film may not fulfill your expectation. This tale is much quieter, more introspective. The success of the movie relies on the unsettling mood as zombies are present in almost every background shot. It is a haunting and ethereal vision, especially as the pair drive through the night.
In addition to creating an effectively somber and realistic ambience, the Ford Brothers make the most of their unique environment. The African backdrop is wholly unique, and the movie looks great. The effects are solid, but the violence can be a bit disconcerting considering the real life atrocities and genocide that they bring to mind. I really liked the old-school approach to creating the undead effect, the figures aren't particularly monstrous--but more like hollowed out shells of the people they used to be (but hungrier!). Their horror comes from their ordinariness and their sheer numbers, they are simply everywhere. The action is interspersed with much quiet and melancholy, and again--this causes the picture to feel very different, very real. It's an unorthodox approach and it makes "The Dead" stand apart as a refreshingly grown-up film for adult audiences that appreciate a good scare or two. KGHarris, 1/12.