Welcome to another zombie apocalypse. Large parts of Africa have been overrun (or in this case really over-shambled) by the walking dead and the Europeans and the Americans are evacuating their people. American Military engineer Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) is on the last flight out of the continent. The plane crashes somewhere over a West African country, though, with Brian ending up as the only survivor. Brian makes his way across country with vague plans to somehow get out and get back home. His knowledge of things mechanic and electronic at least enables him to get an old, rusted car working.
Early on, Brian meets Daniel (Prince David Oseia), a deserted soldier trying
to make his way to a military base to the far north where he hopes to find his
young son. Somewhat reluctantly, the two team up – at first, Daniel’s only
supposed to show Brian the way to a small military airport (the big ones have
all been bombed by the US military so that nobody can flee the country and
possibly infect white people) where the engineer hopes to rig something flyable
up, but when that falls through, the men decide to try to reach the northern
base together, crossing through much of the rural West African apocalypse.
Given the unending masses of zombie movies that shamble across all kinds of
screens, it is little wonder I’ve only now seen Howard J. and Jon Ford’s
(working as the Ford Brothers) piece about zombie apocalypse taking place in
Africa, particularly since “it’s the zombie apocalypse, but in an unnamed West
African country!” does sound like a rather gimmicky approach to the end of the
world on film.
As it turns out, the plot’s location is not a gimmick but an important part
of the film’s approach to zombies. Where most films of the genre concentrate
either on cities or the country as post-apocalyptic survivalist wet dream and/or
nightmare, The Dead is involved in the moment when the world hasn’t
quite ended yet, with Africa going first through a combination of an
infrastructure destroyed or hampered by decades of proxy wars, the bloody
consequences of colonialism and imperialism, and general human inhumanity, with
the rest of the world clearly only interested in the continent’s troubles as
much as it doesn’t want to catch them too. While this sounds like a very
political movie, these aspects of the plot are rather downplayed, running in the
background as part of its world building more than anything. If you’re unkind,
you might even complain that a film taking place in West Africa still has a
white American hero, and I don’t think you’d be completely wrong.
On the other hand, when it comes to the type of zombie film about basically
competent, basically decent, people stumbling through a normal world that has
freshly turned into hell, this one’s a real low budget gem. It’s well-paced,
well-acted by Oseia and Freeman, and (until the somewhat too cheesy end) with a
clear vision of what it wants to be and how to achieve it.
Take for example the zombies. These aren’t your at the moment more typical
loud fast zombies, nor the kind of slow shamblers that only become a threat en
masse. Instead, the Fords opt for scattered, very slow, yet also very silent
zombies whose main claim to danger is their complete relentlessness. These
things don’t ever stop - if you’re sleeping, drinking, or just trying to rest
for a bit, they just come and come and come at you until you’re as dead as they
are, something the film emphasises again and again. Add to this approach some
fantastic zombie acting - the people playing the dead often create a very real
impression that these aren’t people anymore, or infected, but truly
soulless husks that only know to follow and to bite - and you have zombies that
are always creepy, and very often truly frightening again, shambling through a
landscape that is at times beautiful, at times oppressive in its emptiness, and
at times claustrophobia inducing. It’s such a pure and concentrated approach to
zombies I’d love the film for them alone.
I really don’t need to, though, for the same calm, thoughtful and careful
approach the Ford Brothers take to their zombies they also take concerning the
rest of their film, with very little that doesn’t just work, and work very well,
making The Dead something pretty special in my book.