“I honestly can’t recommend The Dead as either an exciting zombie-horror film or as a compelling character-driven drama, so I reluctantly have to advise you to avoid The Dead because it is a dead end.”
Horror and Drama
Starring - Rob Freeman as Lt. Brian Murphy, Prince David Oseia as Sgt. Daniel Dembele, David Dontoh as The Chief, Ben Crowe as the mercenary leader, Glenn Salvage as a mercenary and Dan Morgan as James
Directors - Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford
Writers - Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford
Rated R for bloody zombie violence and gore
Runtime - 105 minutes
There have been so many zombie films made in past decade that it is more difficult than ever to do something different with the genre. I was interested in The Dead because it was billed as “the first Zombie Road-Movie set against the stunning backdrop of Africa, shot on locations in Burkina Faso and Ghana, West Africa.” That alone should have made it visually unique enough to make The Dead worth watching. Unfortunately, its unique setting is all that is remarkable about The Dead.
A U. S. Army engineer, Brian Murphy, is the only survivor of a plane crash off the coast of Africa. Murphy makes his way on foot to a seemingly deserted village and finds and fixes a truck. Getting the truck stuck in the mud, he is suddenly attacked by zombies, but is saved by an African soldier named Daniel. Daniel explains that his wife was killed by the zombies, but is looking for his son, who he told to leave the village during the zombie outbreak. Murphy and Daniel drive off together in the truck. Daniel agrees to drive Murphy to the nearest airport in exchange for helping him look for his son.
A film like The Dead, whose story depends so much on developing its two lead character's personalities and background, is also dependent on the strength of the two actors portraying those characters. Rob Freeman is a versatile character actor who has been featured in over a dozen genre TV programs in the past decade; most recently playing Coach Quigley in Smallville. He has also played supporting roles in Dark Angel, The Lone Gunmen, The Outer Limits, Strange World, Millennium, First Wave, Viper and The X-Files. Rob Freeman has appeared in feature films as diverse as Ten Dead Men, Shanghai Knights, Prozac Nation, New Blood and Saving Private Ryan. I have seen many of these TV series and films, yet I have no recollection of his characters from these roles. It might be a credit to his ability as an actor to disappear into his characters, but I unfortunately think it is more likely that Freeman is just not a very memorable actor. This could explain why The Dead is his first starring role in a feature film. Rob Freeman is perfectly serviceable in his role as a U. S. Army engineer, but he isn’t able to add any gravitas to his character and the entire film suffers because of it. So much of the film is spent with Murphy and Daniel wandering in the deserted landscape and discussing what might be happening in the rest of the world, that without crafting truly three-dimensional characters, the film just drags along.
A zombie film that features the slow-Romero zombies has to rely on character and dramatic tension to create suspense and horror. While the several zombie attacks that appear in The Dead are handled with great technical skill, they still lack any real emotional weight. Blame for this should go to director and writers Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford. Their directorial resumes are pretty slim: They consist of the low-budget thriller Distant Shadow (2000) and the even lower-budgeted crime-drama Mainline Run (1994). I don’t blame the lack of budget on The Dead being less exciting than bigger budgeted zombie films, because the master George Romero has proven that with a powerful script, a low budget can be overcome. The Dead may have been better if the script had explored more of the zombie-infested African setting - and to be fair, it does touch on this in small part. However, too much of The Dead is just our two protagonists wandering the landscape, looking for transportation and moping about missing their respective loved ones.
I honestly can’t recommend The Dead as either an exciting zombie-horror film or as a compelling character-driven drama, so I reluctantly have to advise you to avoid The Dead because it is a dead end.
TECHNICAL: Acting – 6 Directing – 7 Cinematography – 8 Script – 6 Special Effects – 8
VISCERAL: Visual – 8 Auditory – 7 Intellectual – 6 Emotional – 6 Involvement – 7
TOTAL - 69