Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bring Out The Dead!

There's little doubt that the zombie concept has been...ahem...beaten to death in recent years. For every successful interpretation of the horror theme like the TV series The Walking Dead and the comedy Zombieland, there are a dozen crappy knockoff zombie movies which add nothing new to the concept first popularized by George Romero's Night of the Living Dead so many decades ago.

So I don't know exactly what it was that made me stop and watch The Dead. Maybe it was the starkly beautiful landscapes or the quiet palpable atmosphere, but whatever I did just that. The 2010 movie is smartly set in Africa, giving it a fresh feel already in contrast to the dozens of zombie flicks in and around burned out American and European cities. The territory, grandly beautiful in many instances stands in contrast to the horror which seeps  through it. And that's key.

The startling images of a half dozen zombie-fied people slowly ambling across the veldt, painfully but relentlessly slowly are the core horror concepts in this flick. These are the unblinking and always moving slow zombies popularized by Romero so long ago, not the furtive and lightning-fast zombies of more recent years. The return to the classic mode gives this story an atmosphere of true terror it would lack otherwise. The zombies in this movie are still recognizably people, recently dead for the most part and not the long-dead corpses of most zombie flicks which end up being mostly studies in disgusting special effects goo.

The whole of the continent of Africa and perhaps beyond has been stricken with the shambling dead who seek the flesh of the living and press forward changing the balance between life and death with grim inevitability. No reason is supplied for this "zombie apocalypse", as the characters here are not qualified to know such mundane things, but one character does suggest perhaps Nature itself h seeks to retrieve the balance humanity has long ago tipped in its favor on the face of the planet.

In the face of this weird crisis two men (played by actors Rob Freeman and Prince David Osei) come together through chance, and work together to cross vast pitiless territory seeking relief from the plague as well as weakness, hunger and thirst. One seeks to escape to his homeland in America, the other seeks his son lost in the destruction of his village. A white man and a black man work together in the face of a scourge which makes no distinctions of that kind. It's pretty compelling stuff.

But unfortunately it's rather too slow. The movie is overlong by at least fifteen or twenty minutes. The directors, a pair of brothers named Howard and Jon Ford seemed too in love with the beautiful footage they've shot and can't let enough of it  go to make their movie just get along with its simple tale. Scenes are repeated for no reason especially,  save that they shot them. The protagonists learn the same lessons a few times over and while there is little dialogue (smart that decision) some of it is nonetheless repetitious. I get that the makers wanted to give the movie the same ambling gait that they give to the zombies, but in the end they wear me out with too many darkened trips through the veldt and yet another close call while the two men fix the their reluctant truck yet again.

But those criticisms aside, The Dead is a surprsingly worthwhile addition to a genre which has mostly played itself out for the present.

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