Director: Howard J Ford, Jonathan Ford
Writers: Howard J Ford, Jonathan Ford
Actors: Rob Freeman, Prince David Oseia
In 2010 small scale production The Dead tried to muscle its way into an already cluttered genre of the zombie apocalypse. To set itself apart from the increasingly large scale epics pumped out from every corner of the globe it offered the exotic setting of rural Western Africa and a minimalist style.
While certainly an intriguing scenario the story doesn’t make anything out of its setting other than offering a breath of fresh air visually. There is little in the way of satire or allegory providing any worthwhile insight into local politics or way of life. The Dead is most certainly not from the same school as the Romero social commentary.
The lack of substance provided by the setting is compounded by the minimalist approach to the story arch and the shallow back-story to the zombie theme. There is zero preamble to the outbreak, the story dropping straight into the protagonists first encounter with the rising dead and taking no breathers up until the final scene. If you are hoping for a big pay off and explanation as to the what and the why then don’t bother. All you need to know is that there are zombies and they are overrunning the world.
With no social commentary, no zombie mythos, and little character development, it is difficult to see what the story is trying to offer that a simple action survival story couldn’t have.
Holding up the thin narrative is an obscure American actor Rob Freeman who puts in a truly dire performance as a military engineer lost in an alien world. All together he speaks about 10 lines of dialogue and spends most of the time making awkward gestures which are assumed to convey stress, despondency and exhaustion but it is truly difficult to be sure. Lacking the physical stature to make in imposing survivalist hero like Mad Max, nor the charisma to pull off a silent but magnetic role, he is a truly odd bit of casting.
Along side Freeman is complete unknown Prince David Oseia as an African soldier. Initially he offers a whole lot more promise but is utterly wasted as a character. A similar silent and stoic type the unlikely duo spend most of the film in awkward silences. Not a great way to develop chemistry or conflict.
To be fair to the two leads, the minimal dialogue cripples all aspects of the narrative and character development giving them little opportunity to do anything other than drive around and survive tense scenarios.
The one redeeming feature is undoubtedly the cinematography which casts the exotic locations in beautiful sun light and epic natural landscapes. But even this is often ruined by the extremely corny and amateurish editing which ceaselessly indulges in slow motion, elaborate cuts and quick fire montages, which are not only overused but awfully cheesy. Its almost as if an over excited film student wanted to use every opportunity to showcase every trick they had learnt at school.
There is also a welcome return to old school zombies which slowly shuffle and seemingly pose little threat but cause horrific damage when they get too close to a tired or distracted survivor. The action is brutal and quite tense at first but with pretty much every scene unfolding into a zombie confrontation straight from the very first, it kind of gets old well before the end. It also seems ridiculous that no matter how remote the location one or two zombies inevitably shuffles into view.
Add to that some seriously old school cliches such as family pictures (which every character seems to pull out at every opportunity) and an embarrassing final moment including a sunset, lucky charm, and super slow-mo encounter which belongs in a Disney cartoon.
All of which is a bit frustrating. An uncompromising screenplay which held up a mirror to African tribal society, some restraint in the editing, and a decent lead and The Dead would have been able to build some serious atmosphere and offer a gritty old school zombie survival in a fresh setting. Instead this is only one for the zombie fetishists.