Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Zombies in Africa: The Dead

Africa is the cradle of civilization. Mankind started there and is about to end there in spectacular fashion. Yes, the zombie apocalypse is raging in the Ford Brothers’ The Dead (mature trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Lt. Brian Murphy was on the last transport plane out of West Africa. It didn’t make it. Crashing off the coast, Murphy washes up on shore, only to be met by a reception committee of zombies. Fortunately, they are dumb, slow, and relatively easy to shoot through. They have one big advantage though: numbers, which are only growing. Kit-bashing together some transportation, Murphy joins forces with Sergeant Daniel Dembele, a deserter from the local military desperately searching for his young son. With dwindling ammo and water, they head towards the last reported shelter in hopes of finding the boy.

Unlike The Walking Dead, there are loads of zombie attacks in the rather pedestrianly titled but seriously cool The Dead. Though it follows the general conventions established by the Living Dead films (aim for their empty heads), the Fords (Howard J. and Jon) are notably stylish filmmakers for the horror genre. Shot on location in Ghana and Burkina Faso, their sun-scorched vistas are genuinely striking (credit particularly due to cinematographer brother Jon). They even seem to evoke Lawrence of Arabia in early scenes. The Brothers Ford also understand how to build suspense from the fear of the unseen, as well as indulging in the gore demanded by hardcore zombie fans.

By horror movie standards, Dead’s primary leads fall considerably towards the high end of the bell curve as well. Rob Freeman is pretty engaging as the grizzled black ops soldier, far manlier than the youngsters Hollywood keeps pushing on us. However, the real discovery of The Dead for American audiences is Ghanaian actor Prince David Osei, whose intense screen presence is undeniable.

Of course, Dead falls into a somewhat predictable pattern, where the marauding zombies try to eat Murphy and Dembele, while the two survivors hack at them with machetes. That is not necessarily a criticism. As a further plus, Dead never really bothers with much of a guilt trip over western colonialism. It just doesn’t have the time for it. After all, those zombie hordes aren’t going to kill themselves, except maybe occasionally by accident.

The Dead conveys the atmosphere of the African countryside far better than scores of mainstream films, but it is not likely to transcend category. It is just too enthusiastic about showing off its severed limbs. Zombie fanatics though, totally need to check out it when it opens in New York this Friday (10/7) at the AMC Empire.