By Richard von Busack
The Dead is the first zombie movie in years to have some real lead in its pencil. Brothers Howard J. and Jonathan Ford went from England to Bourkina Faso to direct this strangely plausible, beautifully photographed and hellaciously gory horror film. If there’s almost nothing new to be said about zombs, the fresh scenery re-energizes the myths. We may know the drill, but we don’t know the terrain. With bad roads, thorny bushes, little water and no place to hide, a pair of humans prowl a dead land. U.S. Air Force Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) is the only survivor of the crash-landed last plane out of Africa. He is rescued by a soldier, Sgt. Daniel Dembele (played by the film star Prince David Oseia, whose presence and remarkable physique reminds one of Djimon Honsou).
The two commandeer a skeletonized pickup truck and search for an airbase. It’s a Wages of Fear–style journey to find sanctuary from the inexplicable plague of undead cannibals. The Fords’ zombies are slow as the Romero kind, but they’re fearless and wily; they stand back and watch, sizing up opportunities. You could accuse the Fords of glomming on to old movie tropes about Africa as a place of sudden death. The Dead is a compulsively watchable, crisply trimmed piece, with elegant matching shots, but it’s yet another film about Africa that keeps yielding to the European point of view. However, there’s hardly anything fantasylike in the idea of Africa being left by the world to implode from plague and disaster. Also plausible: the idea of the breakdown of everything there…everything, but existential decency, such as the duty to protect children. The acknowledgement of common bravery in Africa brings some hope to a sci-fi situation where the living would envy the dead.