The Dead (2010)

A few weeks ago I said Dead [noun] was the most generic possible name for a zombie movie. I stand corrected. Hats off to The Dead for coming within one three-letter word of whittling its title down to irreducible, subatomic simplicity. So close!

My greatest hope for movies with common names like The Dead is that somewhere in the American midwest, some confused retiree was super excited for a night of box wine and John Huston movies, but instead wound up watching flesh-eating tribesmen getting decapitated. My stars, I never knew James Joyce was so violent!

Where we’re going, we don’t have roads.

The story: Africa! Holy smokes! With literally no explanation at all (actually a really bold choice) we’re dropped right in the middle of a continent-wide zombie epidemic. A lone American survives a plane crash only to find that miles upon miles of zombie-infested savanna separate him from his nearest hope of rescue. Toto did not prepare him for this. The gods must be crazy! Too!

Biggest letdown: From the outset this movie is clearly very high quality for indie horror. Given how much of The Dead is exquisite, it’s absolutely shocking how bad the main character is. He’s played by a veteran actor named Rob Freeman and not, as I had assumed, some random local hired because he was the only white guy for thousands of miles.

Napkin. Please.

At first I thought Freeman was an amazing bit of casting because he has this lanky, slouching physique and he’s somewhere in his late 40s, both of which are atypical for the leading man in an action-survival flick. And all he does for the first 30 minutes is trudge through the wasteland, blasting undead monsters and grimacing, which really seems to solidify his surprising badassedness. Then he opens his mouth, and immediately turns into Corky from Waiting for Guffman.

If he says one more word I’m gonna bite his ass face off.

Why you should watch: The main character is a nightmare but most everything else is pretty great. First and foremost, Africa. No shit, they filmed this entire movie in goddamn AFRICA. When you shoot your movie in a place like New York, haughty little turds like me love to marvel at how the city itself becomes a character. “The people inhabit it, but really IT INHABITS THEM, MAN.” Puke. But in the case of Africa, that’s really true. There’s no faking the power of those plains and mountains, the scenery is just too magnificent. Even if the script is barely tolerable, setting it in front of such a staggering backdrop immediately makes the movie better than it has any right to be. Just look at Congo.

Making a Lion King joke is impossible if you can’t hear me singing.

IMDB tells me most of The Dead was shot in Burkina Faso and Ghana, which are pretty awful places. In Burkina Faso it’s estimated there’s only one doctor for every 10,000 people. Ah, yes, our next available appointment is in January, 2067. Please bring your insurance card. That kind of desperate poverty creates a lot of waste and desolation, which, for better or worse, make for great end-of-the-world movie settings. Abandoned airfields, bombed out hospitals and shattered villages dot a pristine natural landscape like no other on earth. If you can afford to go there, Africa’s terrible scars and stunning landscapes will art direct the hell out of your apocalypse, no assembly required.

It also appears that having a little money to throw around meant the directors didn’t have to skimp on extras. There at least a dozen shambling ghouls in the background of nearly every shot. Even big budget movies don’t often have that luxury. The undead appear with such frequency they very nearly establish the sort of ubiquity needed to make them seem like yet another hideous fact of life in the ravaged continent, on par with famine and war. Almost, but not quite.

What do you mean, YOU people?

Though the movie has some serious shortcomings – most significantly the super linear, dreadfully monotonous journey structure – it really nails the zombie design. They’re given very little direction to act aggressively. They move slowly, often limping, and make no moaning or growling, no sound at all really. They don’t even look menacing, wearing only blank expressions as they shamble after their prey. It’s only their relentlessness and their infinite numbers that make them threatening. (It’s entirely possible they just reused the same twenty or so extras for every scene, but I like to think they hired an entire West African town to put on makeup and play zombies for a few weeks. I hope they all got to keep their zombie contact lenses.)

Just another day at the office.

Memorable Moment: The second the hero and his companion say, “Let’s chance a fire” my bullshit  meter went crazy. No one would ever do that out in the open with thousands of hungry monsters lurking nearby. But before I even finished my incredulous pshawing, Mr. St. Clair showed me why, 40 minutes earlier, he picked up that ball of twine: it’s an alarm system! String it between the surrounding bushes, add a tin can, and you’re in business. Simple but ingenious, and something I wouldn’t have thought of in a million years. I would not do well in a zombie apocalypse.

Choice quote: “The war between us is no more. There is a new war. We have to fight it together.” Yeah, dialogue’s not really this movie’s best feature.

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3 Responses to “The Dead (2010)”

  1. […] The Dead – I just can’t waaaaaait… to eat braaaaaains…. Or, in the alternative, It’s the Circle… the Circle of Deeeeeeath… […]

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