Fantastic Review: The Dead

By  · Published on October 1st, 2010

Repeat after me: Zombies are only scary when they’re in large numbers.

Despite the influx of the fast-moving variety, when zombies are slow, they’re only frightening if they’re coming in wave after wave of unstoppable, mindless, brain-hungry flesh. Without numbers, they’re nothing. Sadly, this memo never made its way to the team that made The Dead.

Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) is the sole survivor of a crashed evacuation plane, and he finds himself stuck in the African desert with a handful of zombies wandering around wanting to eat him. He meets up with Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia) who is desperately searching for his young son while also trying to avoid being eaten.

The main issue of the film can be traced back to an inability to create fear with the zombies. Without that, there’s really no point to anything happening on screen. This might have not been an issue if the film had attempted to do something beyond the zombie invasion, but it continually returns to scenes which attempt to scare or create tension with a perfectly manageable amount of zombies. Essentially, the scares are coming from what amounts to a handful of giant snails covered in molasses that are just waiting to have their heads blown off by a shotgun blast. Low on ammo? That machete you’re carrying would do just as nicely.

Since there no real threat, there’s no fear. Since there’s no fear, the forced fear that comes from the actors seems down right silly before it gets completely dull. This complaint isn’t a blind adherence to some make-believe canon of “zombie rules,” but a simple reality in what makes that particular entity fear-inducing.

What results is a repetitive movie that sees the two men heading north to what they hear is a safe haven, their car stalling (that’s right – Murphy has time to put a new tire on and fill up the tank with zombies visibly closing in for an attack), and them getting the car going again after a jump scare from a creature that’s psychically incapable of jumping. This pattern is on repeat for five or six rotations while mild variations on a car problem are created and solved instantly. In one scene, the concern is that they’re running out of water and can either refill the coolant tank or save it for themselves. What sounds like a promising start to the real problem of being in the African desert turns into nothing at all when they find a convenient water pump in the next scene. Things continue on this path throughout the entire run time of them being fine despite not eating or drinking much. Murphy gets a fever and its gone when he wakes up. Nothing is really ever of any consequence.

In fact, the entire conceit is fairly illogical. Why are there zombies roaming around the open, unpopulated desert? Why haven’t they all been eaten by lions? If you think about it, a zombie is a walking buffet for any number of large cats and other predators out there, but in this universe, they’re all still wandering around waiting to frighten you if you give them 20 minutes to get close enough to gnaw at your arm.

The positive aspect of the film is the scenery. It was a grand idea to shoot in Africa because the landscape is ethereal in its beauty. There’s a post card aspect at work here, and yes, in that regard the film displays something that’s not often shown on screen in this way.

Unfortunately, that landscape is filled with flat acting from the two leads who say most of their lines as if they’re reading the ingredients on the Caro syrup they used for the blood. It’s not like they have much help from the script though, which takes the repetition as an opportunity to make every bit of dialog about Dembele finding his son and Murphy getting to safety. In fact, nothing else is ever really even talked about, and in one scene, Dembele talks at length about making his way to his son before being asked if he has any family.

Overall, the location is the most interesting thing about the entire film, but they’ve populated the African desert with two boring characters (who I’d rather see brutally eaten than listen to), no story, and a group of monsters about as threatening as the black silhouetted targets at a gun range. If any normal military personnel lived in the world of The Dead, they would have a field day making zombie killing their primary hobby behind finding surviving the heat and dehydration. It’s less of a zombie epidemic, and more of a zombie common cold, and because of that, the film has zero urgency or meaning to it.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.