Wednesday, February 1, 2012

DVD Review: THE DEAD (2010)


Release Date: February 14th 2012
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Rating: R
Duration: 105 mins
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Jonathan Ford, Howard J. Ford
Cast: Prince David Oseia, Rob Freeman
The Ford Brothers low-budget zombie flick THE DEAD (2010) starts off with a kick by throwing us right into the action alongside an American Air Force flight engineer named Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) on board a cargo plane that's just evacuated the last white folk from an infected area of war-torn Africa. The already tense atmosphere on the plane escalates when a wounded passenger expires and returns undead and hungry for flesh causing a frenzy in the cargo hold, the ensuing commotion and the planes hasty take-off ends with the Cessna making an abrupt night time water landing just off the coast. Lt. Murphy is the lone survivor and finds himself washed-up on the coast surrounded by dozens of the shambling undead only just making it off the beach with his life. Inland he commandeers a beat-up pick-up truck making his way through the blistering savanna which is peppered with the undead. He soon encounters an African soldier named Daniel Dembee (Prince David Oseia) whose on his own journey having just returned to his village to find his wife has been devoured by the undead. His son having apparently escaped during an evacuation to a military base in the North. The two join forces seeming as two stand a better chance of fighting off the hordes of undead, Daniel in search of his missing son and Murphy looking to find a way off the continent.

Murphy and Daniel are men of few words with little conversation between them, the lack of dialogue may prove to be problematic from some alongside an odd pace, but while I can see it being a chore for some I rather enjoyed the film's languid pace, full of dread and atmosphere, this film oozes atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, while there's some sweet action set-pieces the film is a definitely a slow burn with a pretty threadbare plot, there's just not a lot of twist and turns here and that's fine. I would have liked to seen more interaction between the two soldiers but the film manages to convey an understanding between the two without resorting to dramatics with a communication short-hand. Both turn in solid performances but I felt that Freeman was a bit stiff at times, perhaps that was his character's military demeanor or post-traumatic shock but he just felt aloof and disconnected. The film does offer some commentary on black/white relations in Africa but it's not drilled-in, there's definitely potential for this have been an unnecessarily political film but the directors have wisely chosen to focus on what all great zombie films have done previously, zero in on the character's struggles in face of a zombie apocalypse.

Honestly, the film rarely offers anything new in the way of zombie tropes but the familiar elements seem fresh when juxtaposed against the harsh African enviorment, it's a great setting and makes for a visual feast; rugged mountainous areas, blistering sandy dunes, and sweltering grassy savannas all crawling with hordes of the undead. It's hard to believe it hasn't been done before, it's an inspired setting that's gorgeously shot with slow takes that revel in the scenery which never devolve into eye-shredding fast-editing.

The slow moving, shambling dead are in abundance here and I must say that I find them so much creepier than their fast-moving counterparts. The idea of a creeping, deliberate horde of hideous, flesh-chewing undead just disturbs me, no matter where you go they are constant and just nearly upon you. These are the zombies of George A. Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE, a wounded, wandering legion of dead-eyed ghouls. The effects are rendered quite effectively, there's some very nice make-up effects here both practical and CXGI. There's no shortage of gut-munching and skin-tearing carnage, it's great stuff. A particularly effective shambler at the top of the film is seen limping painfully, the bone protruding from it's knee in a compound fracture with a nerve shredding sound of broken bones grinding against each other as it walks, that one gave me the willies.  

There's not much I didn't enjoy about THE DEAD, this is a solid piece of zombie entertainment deserving of a wide audience. The unique setting, familiar yet welcome tropes and nasty bits of gore all come together to make for an entertaining watch, definitely one of the most solid zombie flicks I've seen in a few years.

Special features on the disc include a deleted scene, a brief behind-the-scenes featurette and audio commentary with the filmmakers who provide some  pretty entertaining insights about the film which I'm only listening to just now while typing this, it's fun stuff.

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer/Director Howard J Ford and Writer/Director of Photography/Co-Director Jon Ford
- Deleted Scene (1:42) 16:9
- Unearthing THE DEAD: Behind The Scenes (5:12) 16:9

Verdict: After months of avoiding clips, press and trailers for THE DEAD it was a genuine treat to watch it, finally. This ones a winner, a grim, Romero-esque zombie chiller with tons of glorious gutmunching and claustrophobic thrills set in the rugged but gorgeous African terrain, a very high recommend.  4 outta 5