Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Dead - Digtial Download Review


Theatrical Release Date: October 7, 2011

In this day and age it takes a whole lot to make your zombie movie to stand out from the bunch. Who knew that going all the way back to the roots of the genre would yield such a refreshing result to help remind us how the undead used to creep us out.

Review Vital Stats:
Service: Xbox Zune Marketplace
Download Type: Rental
Picture Quality: HD

Loves: Anything and Everything zombie related, George A. Romero
Likes: Slow moving zombies better than fast moving ones
Neutral: Checking any expectations for a real narrative at the door
Hates: Some of the stupid decisions that are made by these characters
First: Time we have seen zombies in Africa to my knowledge

Directed by brothers Howard J. Ford and Jonathon Ford, The Dead is a true return to that classic zombie formula that George Romero established over almost 45 years ago. While most zombie enthusiasts have spat upon the recent trend started almost a decade ago where zombies suddenly developed the ability to run after their prey, others like myself chose to accept that there were other ways to handle the undead. While I still believe there is a happy medium that has never been fully explored (seriously, if you want to get technical about the mobility of a zombie then upon the first 48 hours they should be limber and able to move about rather easily but once that rigamortis sets in they will be shambling until they get that bullet in the head), the Ford Brothers have decided to go back to what made zombies scary in the first place, creeping evil has returned..

Set in present day Africa, we are quickly thrown into a dire situation where a group of survivors aboard an airplane struggle to figure out what has just happened and try their hardest not to break out into hysteria. There also happens to be an injured man on board who has recently been bitten...any horror fan can tell you the outcome of that situation. As you might expect the plane experiences some difficulties and ends up crashing just off the coast of Africa with only one survivor, a military engineer named Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman). Just as his plane goes down we also are witness to an entire African village under siege by a horde of zombies. A military patrol is able to evacuate a few surviving villagers, one of which just so happens to be the young son of Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia) of the African military. As both men start their searches, one for escape the other for his son, they must find a way to traverse the harsh African environment amidst a land full of the walking dead.

The African landscape makes for a hauntingly beautiful setting.

With the recent popularity of The Walking Dead going well beyond just the average zombie/horror fan there are probably a lot of people out there who only know one type of zombie. With all do respect to them for finally discovering the awesomeness of the zombie genre, they having seen shit yet. That AMC television show definitely gets a lot of what makes a good zombie storyline work but it also caters to those who need something more than just the image of a person getting their neck ripped out by a hungry zombie. I understand the need to feel connected to the characters and understand who they are and where they came from. I also understand that many feel as though a zombie isn't really a threat unless they run (Dawn of the Dead 2004) or appear unrelenting and vicious (The Walking Dead). I like those aspects as well, I like to see variety in my zombies, the more the better as far as I'm concerned. But nothing will ever truly replace the love I have for the original George Romero zombies.

What's the difference? Well, I am not what you would call a zombie expert by any stretch but I have seen enough films featuring the living impaired that I think I am pretty well versed when it comes to comparing the varying types of undead. Probably the first thing that you will notice with the zombies featured in The Dead is just how dam slow they are. You might think the zombies in The Walking Dead are slow, just wait until you see these things in action. Walking (or crawling) one step at a time with each foot dragging forward in what seems like eternity isn't something most would consider frightening. Their speed or lack thereof is definitely not going to freak anyone out, but their methodical pace, silent approach and the idea that they could be directly behind you at any given moment and you wouldn't know it until they sink their teeth into you is as unnerving as all hell.

The zombies of The Dead aren't particularly difficult to dispatch.

The Dead is chock full of examples I could use but probably the best would be just after Murphy wakes up on the beach the morning following his plane crash where he and two other soldiers washed up at. As he struggles to regain consciousness he is able to make out some figures at the tree line in the distance. Just down the beach is another fellow soldier with an injured leg who is being approached by at least a dozen or so zombies. Then another soldier appears out of the water who races past all the zombies with ease and can be heard clearing a path in the distance. Murphy sees that the zombies are getting closer and closer to him knowing that the soldier down the beach is certainly doomed, Murphy uses that as an opportunity to start pounding way at the locked crates littered around him in search of a weapon. The tension mounts as they start to rip apart the wounded soldier who is a mere 20 feet or so away from him and about another dozen zombies are right on top of him. He finally breaks open the crate, finds a gun, loads it and shoots the three closest zombies in the head. After that he slowly gathers his things and WALKS past the other zombies towards the tree line.

You see, in your modern zombie climate that shit wouldn't fly. If a guy washed up on a beach surrounded by zombies that could run or even just walk fast he would be dead before he even had the thought to break open a crate. What I love about that whole scenario and how it played out was the shift in gears it displayed. One second he was scurrying to find anything he could to save his life and the next second he is able to take his time without worry. What makes that scary exactly? It is the fear of the inevitable, the fear of a slow and agonizing death that is slowly approaching. If a zombie was to sprint at you it is really no different than any other sort of monster that wants to kill you. But when they take their time, walking ever so slowly towards their victim with only one eat gives the victim enough time to ponder over their death before it happens which makes it even worse. I understand the impact of the quick kill that comes out of nowhere, but just watching someone who in any other circumstance would be able to crawl away from the threat and instead get torn apart is horrifying. Because of this films dedication to that ideal it is the first zombie movie to truly make me feel uneasy in a very long time.

He may take his time getting to you but rest assured he will get there eventually.

An argument can be made that the film could have had a little more meat to it (no pun intended). This is very lean story telling here, so lean in fact that there really isn't much of a story at all. We get two main characters...and that's it. Normally we have a slew of survivors to pick from, some more able bodied, some more resilient, an asshole, a person of faith, the criminal, the funny guy, etc... Both Murphy and Dembele are interesting enough guys but for a near two hour long movie it can start to seem a little redundant after a while especially if you are weaned off those types of zombie fare were people are routinely knocked off. This is where we separate the casual zombie fans from the hardcore, if you feel at anytime during this film that any of this feels pointless then you will be better served waiting for the next season of The Walking Dead. There is no story here, there is no real point to anything beyond watching our two main characters traverse the barren African Landscape while trying not to get eaten.

I am not going to say I didn't have a problem with that because I did, a very serious one. I don't easily forgive a film for skimping on the one thing that makes most movies enjoyable, zombies or not, which is some sort of plot. Granted, most zombie movie plots involve people getting from point A to point B while stopping for a break every now and then just long enough for someone to get eaten. The Dead doesn't stray too far from that formula, but it still feels like a fairly empty experience due to its limited cast of characters. Now this is a low budget film so I understand their need to keep costs low and that is something I took into consideration while watching this. Most people who see this either won't know that piece of information or not care and because of that might not be as forgiving as I am. If there is one thing the movie gets right though despite its budgetary concerns it is the beautiful cinematography.

Have I mentioned the beautiful cinematography yet?

Yeah, most of the film consists of following Murphy and Dembele driving down dirt roads and either stopping to investigate a deserted village or searching for supplies. While that stuff will certainly appeal to the hardcore zombie fanatic in all of us it will also start to bore some people I bet. The saving grace is the environment they do all that scavenging in. Most zombie horror films take place in a crowded metropolis or an abandoned mall, town or village where death can be lurking around ever corner. By switching the setting to a part of the world where the clear vistas allow you to see miles ahead it lessens the tension associated with your normal zombie movie road trips but adds a whole new dimension into the equation. I can't rightly say what it is about being able to see a possible threat a mile down the road as opposed to right in front of you but somehow it made the overall atmosphere even more foreboding than usual.

Much of those feelings are derived from the scenery itself which is really quite breathtaking in both its beauty and its remoteness. From the beaches, abandoned military outposts in the middle of nowhere, some truly awe inspiring rock formations and desolate desert landscapes it is never short on new environments to introduce us to which is quite frankly the saving grace of the film. It's kind of staggering to think that this is a low budget film while taking in all its lush locations. Most independent or low budget horror films choose to keep everything confined to a single location with as little exploration as possible so it is quite the breath of fresh air to see someone try something different. That isn't even taking into account that more than half the film takes place during the daytime which is uncommon in its own right for any horror movie of any genre. I cannot stress it enough, this film looks absolutely gorgeous at times and for a movie about zombies killing people that is a very rare thing to have.

The zombies are appropriately unnerving.

Now, there are a few issues that cannot be written off as part of budgetary constraints or lack of any real narrative, one of which is probably one of the most asinine things a person can do when living in a world populated by zombies.  What is the first thing that pops into your mind that you SHOULDN'T do when trying to survive a zombie apocalypse? I'll give you a hint, DON'T FALL ASLEEP AROUND A CAMP FIRE OUT IN THE OPEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! Yes, that sounds like common sense but there comes a point later on after we have seen these two guys hack and slash their way out of countless situations where they decide it is time to rest and BUILD A F**KING FIRE! But they did have a neat idea on how to protect themselves with a rather clever early warning system but that is only something that would come in handy WHEN YOU ARE AWAKE! This one scene ruined a lot of the tension the film had built up to that point because let's face it, you aren't going to give two shits about a person dying if they die because of an obvious f**k up right?

That scene is a solitary incident though, most of the time the characters act as one would expect and are put into some really bad situations where they have to make some pretty f**ked up decisions. One situation in particular dealt with an injured mother being chased by a horde of zombies while caring her infant who crosses paths with our two survivors. But even that scene is rendered moot because of a chance of luck that seemed completely out of place compared to the rest of the film. There are some truly great zombie moments in this film that are unfortunately sometimes compromised by some obvious missteps that could have easily been remedied by tightening up an already very thin script. Another thing that isn't as much a complaint as it is a simple observation is the lack of your usual zombie chatter. For some reason these zombies are tongue tied and move so silently that it kind of defies belief. No groans, moans or snarls, just complete silence. I am still unsure how I feel about that but I can't argue with the results either. Their silence just enhances their creepiness and I am alright with that.

When it comes down to it though this is a movie meant for hardcore zombie horror fanatics, casual fans need not apply. It doesn't skimp on the gore, has little to no story to get in the way of said gore, has the requisite bleak ending and has a fantastic and somewhat original setting for what amounts to nothing more than a series of traditional zombie encounters. If that sounds good to you then I think you will find a lot to like about The Dead. If however you find it difficult to look past its low budget and logic defying tendencies then I suggest you look elsewhere for your zombie fix because this film was made to cater to the zombie geek in all of us. I suggest that you...




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