August 27th, 2010

The Dead

Directors: The Ford Brothers | Run Time: 105 mins

Review by Colin Dibben

The Ford Brothers’ much-lauded West-African set zombie film exudes the pain it took to make it.  

Filmed on location in very rural, very impoverished parts of Burkina Faso and Ghana with a small crew and speaking cast – but with scores of Burkinabe (thats wott thems called acc Wikipedia) filling in for the undead – this is a visceral, location-based, beautifully shot and well-edited addition to the zombie genre.  

Watching a zombie film – an ‘exploitation film’! – that flags up that it’s been made in a country where people die of malnutrition and malaria every day is going to make some people uncomfortable. Suffice to say, the Ford Brothers are aware that death is, in real life, more present and more visible in the parts of West Africa where they filmed than it is in pre-Double Dip UK – and the pre-credit sequence is an intensified and cathartic presentation of these issues. Cast and crew suffered enough illness and crime and mordita-related incidents to make them feel like they almost belonged … 

The narrative is more road trip that ‘holed up in a house’. US military engineer Brian Murphy, who just wants to get back to his wife and daughter, washes up on a sandy shore and runs straight into trundling zombies. He teams up with a sergeant from the local military, Daniel Dembele, who is looking for his son after zombies invaded his hometown. Together, they head north, for the supposedly safe compound where Daniel’s son has been taken.  

Location! Location! Location! I always like it when a film gives me the feel for a real place – and The Dead  plays out in an often magic hour arid grassland, in which zombies sway like the grasses they emerge from.  

The feel of the film is spot on: the languor of the road trip reflects the slowness of the zombies and their sun-baked environment; and although the practically minded hero is a commonplace in this type of film, the realistic locations lend the actions of the characters a credibility you wouldn’t notice otherwise: when you’re trying to change a tire, a creeping zombie is a pain in the ass. Like all great zombie films, this one inhabits a realm of fatal annoyance rather than mortal fear.  

There’s some clever editing and angled shots and quite a lot of munching and assorted gore – the damage wrought by misuse of a fire extinguisher stands out in this respect.  

The film is an uncomfortable viewing experience, you definitely feel a bit of a poverty tourist …but I would argue it’s always better to feel the real. And The Dead will definitely help you do that.

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