Tuesday, 15 November 2011

DVD: THE DEAD (2011)

Despite having watched more zombie movies than I feel I should have, I still can’t understand why they are so popular. Basically a zombie is this: shambling rotting corpses, catch people, eat them. And a zombie movie isn’t much more than that, except it centres round a group of people of whom most, if not all, will either become zombies or zombie food by the end of the movie. Zombies don’t have the versatility of vampires or werewolves who can range from predatory monsters to tragic romantic and sexualised (anti)heroes –see Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula for all that in one movie. Zombies, however, are pretty boring monsters and most zombie movies don’t transcend my description above.

And it’s all George Romero’s fault. Until Night of The Living Dead, zombies never ate anyone. They (and they were mostly black) just did as they were told by their master. The only partial exception to that rule was Hammer’s Plague Of Zombies which can be read as a dig at Britain’s class structure.

Until George Romero who established new rules and can be directly blamed for the all the cheap and really really bad movies made by anyone who thinks he (and it is pretty much all ‘he’s’) can make a movie and end up proving they can make a really really bad one. All you need are some amateur actors, basic equipment, and a friendly butcher.

It’s not as if zombies are used much as metaphors (Romero, and Plague of Zombies excepted). All most makers of zombie movies want to do is appeal to gore fans by showing as much human decay and getting as much human insides outside as possible.

Luckily The Dead is a rare exception. For a start it’s set in an un-named African country which seems to consist mostly of semi-arid scrubland. Murphy, our protagonist is the sole survivor of the last flight out when the plane crashes into the sea. Managing to get to shore he begins a journey to find some kind of aircraft to use to get home. On his way he teams up with an African soldier who’s searching for his son whom he believes has been taken to a place of refuge in the north. They travel, initial wariness slowly building into friendship, either on foot or in a dilapidated through sun-baked arid land littered with dismembered corpses and where the shambling, shuffling dead are never very far away.

This is a very powerful and well-made film. The constant threat of the dead (dead-dread) is ever-present and there are very few scenes where the tension is lifted. The gore factor is high but it never seems gratuitous primarily because the camera never lingers. The editing is very tight as it cuts quickly away from horrific images. There a few scares but you can pretty much see them coming such as when Murphy goes into the dark basement of an abandoned building or peers into darkened huts. We never find out why this is happening though the soldier suggests that it’s the earth cleansing itself, which is as good an explanation as any.

This isn’t just that rare thing, a good zombie movie, it’s a good movie full stop.

Post Script
Just one odd thing which struck me. You never see any animals in this film. I would imagine that with all the corpses around and the walking dead themselves, the place would be paradise for scavengers  and predators like wild dog packs, jackal, hyenas, and lions. I suspect the reason for this omission was either budgetary -it would cost too much- or because such scenes might detract from the focus of the film, probably the former.

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