The Dead – a review

December 13, 2011

I’ve been waiting for this movie a long, long time. It has popped up on Dawn of the Lead several times, first almost two years back on February 6 2010, and I’ve been following its progress closely. Now I’ve finally seen it, and for once it’s great to see a zombie movie actually live up to my expectations.

The Dead, by brothers Howard & Jonathan Ford, tells the story of two men. One (played by Rob Freeman) is an American Air Force engineer, who is the sole survivor when an evacuation plane crashes off the coast of Sierra Leone (I believe). The other one (played by Prince David Oseia) is a local soldier who has lost his son in the chaos of a zombie catastrophe. The movie follows these two men, as one tries to find a way out of the country while the other tries to find his son.

This movie does a lot of things right. Where do I begin? First of all, it’s a return to the roots of zombie horror. The zombies in the movie aren’t the type that jumps around and screams using that “generic monster scream” sound effect that’s used in pretty much every low-budget movie nowadays. Instead these are the zombies of Romero and Fulci: not fast, not smart, but persistent, inhuman and ever present. This is something The Dead does very well. The zombies are scary in a very profound manner, as they are simply automatons craving human flesh. They walk around slowly with a vacant look in their eyes, and when they manage to catch someone, they chew their food thoughtfully. This is something that makes them really unsettling. By stripping their monsters of overt monstrosity (wild aggression, screaming, frenzied speed), the Ford brothers have made their zombies something more than scary. They’re at the same time terrifying and sad – former humans stripped of all humanity. Their terror is increased by the fact that they are everywhere. Whenever there’s noise, you can be sure that in a few moments a zombie or two will silently wander in. This is in my opinion a cornerstone of zombie horror that has been lost in the past years. The zombies in The Dead aren’t scary because they run up to you and rip your throat out. Instead they are scary, because their steady lumbering makes it perfectly clear that there will be no rest or respite to anyone trying to avoid them. It might take them a good long while, but eventually you will tire and they will find you.

This leads me to another of the film’s strong points. The Dead is bleak. Not rub-it-in-your-face-go-cry-emo-kid-teen-angst bleak, mind you. There aren’t witty one-liners, nor comedy zombies going up escalators, just the dead everywhere, abandoned villages and hopeless survivors. The parallels between contemporary developing Africa are obvious. It’s apparent that even without the zombies, the people aren’t living a luxury life and the soldiers are used to putting their AK-47’s to use. For the most part, the movie doesn’t luckily overdo this. There are warm moments there of hope, friendship and community. These aren’t too sappy and Hollywood, so they fit the tone of the movie. Simply put, The Dead is a zombie movie for grown-ups.

The trend is continued in the down-to-earth setting. No massive explosions, high-tech weaponry or things like that. Most of the movie features two men, a few guns and a rusty, stalling pickup truck. The moviemakers have relied on the sights of Africa for their visuals, and that is an excellent choice. Shot on location in Burkina Faso and GhanaThe Dead is easily one of the most beautiful zombie films I’ve ever seen. A lot of the film happens during sunny daytime, and the beautiful vistas of Africa get a lot of screen time. In addition to eye candy, this really changes the tone of the film. Most zombie movies are set in cramped urban environments, producing a sense of claustrophobia. In The Dead, there is lots and lots of space, yet you can almost always see a zombie somewhere, walking along. Again, this enhances the zombies’ effectiveness – you can simply walk around them, but they will follow. The directors have also wonderfully conveyed the oppressing heat and bright sun of the setting. The cast is dusty and sweaty throughout the film, and the cinematography is impressive.

I really liked the movie’s pacing, but this has divided opinions somewhat. The Dead is quite slow. It takes its time, and is largely a road movie, a story of travelling. At times the movie might feel like it slows down too much. For me, it’s a much needed departure from contemporary hectic zombie films and allows the viewer to enjoy the sights and sounds (or rather, silence) of the setting. If I’m allowed to be poetic for a moment, I’ll say the movie leaves you time to think about what’s happening, where it’s set and contrast it with reality.

There aren’t many flaws in the movie. The pacing mentioned before might make the movie seem boring to some, but that’s a matter of taste. There’s also some rather heavy handed social commentary of the “I don’t understand you white people” kind, but there’s not a lot of it. One of the movie’s potentially very interesting storylines is skipped over very lightly, which was a bit of a letdown as it was a very interesting one. The characters could’ve used just a little bit more depth, even if they are not cardboard cut-outs by any means. These are, however, small things compared to the film’s overall quality.

Overall verdict: The Dead is one of the best zombie movies I have ever seen. It’s thought-provoking, adult and genuinely scary. The setting is brilliant and really makes the movie stand out from its contemporaries. This is what zombie movies can be at their best.

You can get the movie on dvd from Play.com and other stores. Be sure to check out the movie’s official site as well.



  1. I saw this film very recently and was debating about whether to review it on my blog. I don’t think I’ll bother because all I needed to type was “see Mikko’s blog for my opinions on this sublime movie!” I totally agree with every word you said so anything I wish to say is going to sound superfluous. Excellent review, my friend!


    • Thanks Bryan, glad I could save you some work 😀 Knowing your taste in zombies, I figured you’d like this one as well. Happy to see I was right!


  2. I saw this movie last year at a film festival and loved it. A great realistic zombie movie – if that’s possible for a zombie film. The scares are fantastic and I loved how seriously they treat the situation: Arguing over whether to drink the remaining water or use it to fill the radiator of the truck – what a fantastic touch!

    I thought the ending was the only weak point here, although I don’t know what I was expecting I still found it rather unsatisfying, but the journey is what it’s all about and what a great journey it was. Glad you loved it too!


    • Thanks for the comment Jon, I somewhat agree with you on the ending. It was ok, but compared to the rest of the film it could’ve been better. Still, it was a small enough piece of the film so it didn’t really matter a lot. You’re spot on about the journey being more important!


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