Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Dead

2010, UK, Directed by Howard J Ford, Jonathon Ford
Colour, Running Time: 105 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Anchor Bay; Video: 1.78:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: Dolby TrueHD

There was a time when I was an obsessive zombie movie fan, tracking down just about anything on tape (this was the nineties by btw) where the flesh-devouring (or not) dead might be using up even a small amount of screen time. My obsession faded just prior to the time the phenomenon began taking off in a more commercial manner resulting in a proliferation of related movies to the point of saturation, and nowadays I specifically avoid anything containing walking cadavers. I recently broke the habit and picked this one up, however, as there were a few opinions that suggested it could stand out from the horde. Opening sequence is really promising: a shrouded man walks across an African desert; he looks dazed and exhausted by the heat (and whatever else he's had to face in the preceding hours). A reanimated corpse wanders by, attracted to living tissue, its near-severed leg barely carrying the weight above. The unperturbed man avoids it and carries on his journey, using his gun sparingly as he encounters more of The Dead. The days leading up to this situation are then recounted for the viewer: an outbreak of an unspecified infection has escalated the existing militaristic chaos in Africa, and the aforementioned survivor, Brian Murphy - an engineer for the U.S. forces - is on the last aircraft to make an escape attempt as bodies everywhere come back to life with a hunger for humankind. The plane goes down though, just off the coast, and Murphy has to retreat back to land amidst constant threat from the corpses that seem drawn to anything with warm blood. He finds an old car and gets the thing working again before taking off in search of another way out. Amidst altercations with walking corpses he picks up an African soldier, Sgt Dembele, the two reluctantly becoming friends on the adopted expedition of travelling to an airbase in the case of the American, whilst looking for the son of the African.
The plot is thin, but that seems to go with the territory in this subgenre - it's all about survival in the face of a relentless, fearsome enemy that is effectively a dead version of ourselves. The fact that death has become manifest is not enough though, as the sheer volume makes the problem ever more potent (indeed, with Earth's population reaching ridiculous levels, the idea of all living people eventually turning involuntarily to the opposing side poses an astronomical threat to remaining survivors). It could be argued that the plot is too thin: sometimes Murphy would appear to be heading from one encounter with reactivated corpses to another, the idea that he becomes aware of an airbase a couple of hundred miles away being of little significance to storyline depth. But, as I say, this goes with the territory; any random selection of the subgenre classics - Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Zombi II, etc. - is not likely to be especially different. What is apparent, in this era of super-slick film-making, is that this film does not appear to be aiming for über-cool style. Murphy himself is a middle aged guy of intelligence, but not one who would stand out in any crowd. He is, by his own admission, just trying to survive. He's not trying to show off to his unseen audience - there are no slow-mo shots (and thankfully shaky cam is kept to what it's best for - the action scenes - rather than being irresponsibly adopted to depict just about anything including someone drinking a cup of tea, as often seems to be the case in cinema/TV nowadays), no flashy poses, and no one-liners. In light of all this, the films feels all the more realistic. If there was a zombie apocalypse then it would probably be like this. The final act is rendered in a powerful splat of hopelessness, resulting in a shiver running through the nerves - the likes of which I've not experienced watching a zombie film for a very long time.

The film is executed in a technically proficient manner, with strong gore effects, some pleasing landscape photography, and a handful of well orchestrated scare sequences. The Blu-ray itself is fairly average - the image is certainly good (it looks like it was shot digitally, but the imdb says otherwise) filling a widescreen TV (or projected image in my case), while the high resolution audio track is excellent: the atmospherics of the African wilderness really draw you in, coupled with an outstanding score by Imran Ahmad (making aggressive use of all five/six speakers). But those seeking extras will be disappointed to find a measly deleted scene, a poxy four minute featurette, and an audio commentary (all the same as the US disc if you think looking elsewhere will yield rewards). Not having enough time to go through the extras I already have for other films I'm not majorly concerned about this, but it does suggest lack of effort/interest on the part of Anchor Bay, who released it both here in the UK and the US. For a film that feels quite different from the norm (mainly due to the unusual location, à la District 9) with a couple of affecting central performances, and creepy, older fashioned slow-moving corpses, The Dead is certainly a dramatic, involving example of the genre that you might want to check out on Blu-ray (or DVD if you still haven't made the HD jump).

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