Thursday, November 10, 2011

REVIEW: The Dead

The Dead
Director: Howard J. Ford & Jonathan Ford
Year 2010

The Dead is a highly ambitious entry in the ever expanding genre of the flesh eating zombie film. Directed by sibling filmmakers, Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford, the movie tells the tale of a lone Air Force Engineer named Brian Murphy, who must survive a zombie apocalypse after crash landing off the coast of Africa. Surrounded by the walking dead and stranded in the middle of nowhere, Lieutenant Murphy must traverse the harsh landscape in order to find a way to return to his wife and young child. With the cards stacked against him, will he be able to escape the dead's unfaltering pursuit for his flesh or will he be just another dinner for the walking corpses?

Watch as Brian Murphy stands in his b-boy stance.

You're not looking so good buddy.

The hardships of this production have been documented by the Ford Brothers in quite a few interviews that I've come across, stating the harsh conditions and unexpected set backs that came with filming in such an inhospitable territory and unforgiving climate. From clashing with local military to having their main actor contracting malaria, the brothers have encountered a lot of hardships in order to finish their epic zombie story and in hind sight, the film has come out the better for it. The fatigue and grit of the location shooting has translated extremely well, making the entire movie feel vividly real and genuine in its savage struggle for survival. You can see it on the actors' faces as they trudge across the sun baked landscape and the resulting experience is unlike anything you've seen in a zombie film to date.

The fact that they went full out on shooting on location is a spectacular decision, reflecting their dedication in bringing something real and tangible to the zombie genre. The effect is highly inspirational in making the viewer experience what it would be like to have to roam the open plains, with nothing but your wits and cunning to keep you from being devoured. The open vistas that the Ford brothers constantly barrage the viewer with, highlights this horrific fact. The main character, Brian Murphy, has an impossible feat ahead of him and by showing the ever expansive terrain of the African landscape, we are reminded on how epic of a quest he really is on.

Damn this tide! Now I have to build another sand castle all over again!

Get outta my dreams Prince David Oseia, get into my car.

Another additional benefit that comes from filming on location, specifically the diverse landscapes of Africa, is the beautiful and picturesque scenery that it provides. From rolling sand dunes, to breathtaking shorelines, to spacious open terrains, The Dead has a visually stunning palette of sun burned orange landscapes that really establish the film as a rich experience for the eyes. This is probably the most beautiful looking zombie film that I've ever scene, adding another layer of vibrance that you don't usually see in this genre. The mixture of the beautiful panoramic moments with the decayed and disemboweled walking corpses is something of a stunner, showcasing the great contrast between life and death. Poetically executed, the Ford brothers lament an unusual combination of sentiment and fear that was greatly appreciated by this viewer.

The direction and camera movements of the film should also be noted. Not only does the film have some breathtakingly beautiful establishing shots of the surrounding landscape, but they energize this heavenly perspective with some techniques that up the tension and inject a dose of horror and thrills into the mix. There's an extreme sense of paranoia in the filming techniques that the Ford brothers use, making the main characters of the piece constantly look over their shoulders for any unwanted and unannounced walking dead. This approach is then replicated in the many perspective views of the characters as they constantly stay vigilant of the zombie horde. There is never really a moment in which we feel the cast is safe within the story and the sibling directors nail this idea home by including these fervent and obsessive camera angles to peak our curious minds on what lies behind that abandoned truck or past those bushes. It's almost exhaustive, but highly effective in ratcheting up the tension for the audience and creating a kinetic atmosphere that exudes a morbid and foreboding sense of doom.

He buddy.... got a light?

Can't get me up here dickhead!

Awe inspiring locales and super charged atmosphere aside, the film at its core is a buddy/road trip style movie, showcasing the camaraderie between two men of discerning backgrounds. In the film, Brian Murphy has a run in with another fellow survivor named Daniel Dembele, and the two forge a friendship that first ignites out of necessity but eventually morphs into a respectful bond between the two characters. The connection between the two is genuinely acted out and the slow bonding of their friendship is nice to see come forth. Both actors, Rob Freeman, who takes on the role of Murphy, and Prince David Oseia, who plays the role of Dembele, do a courageous job of portraying the two contrasting characters that come together amid turmoil.

Stepping outside of the zombie mold, the film focuses on the good qualities of human kind instead of depicting us as hate filled and fearful animals when the shit hits the fan. There is no underlying lesson on how humanity is the real monster, like in Romero's zombie efforts, instead we get a rather encouraging lesson on the integrity of the human race and the unseen bond that we all have within us. It's uplifting and surprising to see this kind of story play out in a zombie film, and I appreciated the change of tone.

A zombie apocalypse can get pretty lonely, but man are they beautiful.

People are dying to get into this town.... yuk...yuk.

Now let's end with the zombies. These guys are the good old fashion slow moving corpses of yesteryear and they are sprinkled throughout this movie, threatening to suffocate the frame in every shot. The directors make good use of their appearance and presentation, always making sure to add them in the background to ram home the overwhelming experience of being surrounded by a never ending swarm of flesh hungry ghouls. These guys are everywhere and while not in great numbers, their presence can be felt in every second of the films run time. Their existence lies heavy on the film, creating a surprisingly claustrophobic atmosphere amid such an expansive open wide terrain.

The Ford brothers' overall look for the flesh eaters are simple, yet convincing, harkening back to some of the work on Fulci's Zombie. They are not as grotesque as Fulci's masterpieces, but their overall grungy look and stilled movements are reminiscent of the iconic imagery for his walking dead. The gore and violent nature of the zombies in this film, also seem to echo the feel of those Italian zombie romps, exhibiting their cannibalistic tendencies in bloody fashion. Flesh is torn and devoured, all in its focused glory, giving off the primal essence that makes these zombie films so unsettling. The Ford brothers' attention to detail and unabashed respect for the genre is quite evident in their execution during these horrific moments. You can't help but admire the love they have for this type of movie and it shows in the tremendous output of their intimate little masterpiece.

He's got that hungry look in his eye.

Don't take candy, or odd necklaces, from strangers.

The Dead is a zombie film that uses its location to the fullest, while providing a movie that is simply beautiful. Having a rather unorthodox approach to the material, the film still manages to hold true to the rules of the modern zombie film. With care and consideration, they have infused an overwhelming sense of tension and paranoia that perfectly resembles the chaos that one would experience when fighting for their life while fending off an army of the living dead. The relationship between the two main characters was heartfelt and natural, never threatening to dabble into cliche or familiar territory. The zombies of the film were excellently realized and wholly threatening, taking cues from some of the most iconic deadheads of the biz.

If there's one thing I can say about the film to summarize it up, it would be that it is the most authentic portrayal of a zombie uprising that I have seen in a long time. Everything is genuine, paced, and realistic, never going overboard just for the sake of cheap thrills and nonsensical plot devices. The Dead is a true classic of the genre and I hope in time that it will be recognized as such. Check this out for the zombie lover in you.

5 out of 5 stars               A Future Zombie Cult Classic!


  1. Excellent review, just watched it last night. Can't believe it has not been better advertised and that it has received so much unfair criticism. I think you hit the nail on the head about the ever prevailing sense that the protagonists are never safe; the dead are constantly on the horizon. This is the only zombie flick I have seen where this ever present threat is portrayed.

  2. Thanks! Yeah I really don't understand why so many critics have kind of panned this film and the directors. I think they did a great job on the film and like I said, that sense of dread is thick throughout the film. Yeah it is one of the only films that stretches that feeling of dread throughout the entire run time and that alone should give it some kind of merit among the doubters. Great flick! Thanks for taking time to read the review.

  3. nice review
    one of the best 00s zombie flicks
    a true classic

  4. Thanks Tentas! Glad you enjoyed the review and The Dead was by far one of the best of recent years. It was nice to see a respectable zombie entry make an appearance this late in the game and it's also good to know that the genre hasn't run dry yet of exceptionally great zombie stories. Definitely a classic in my book.