The Dead Review
The Ford Brothers return the zombie genre to its roots of Western Africa. Since original cinematic fare like Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie, this genre has lumbered through the western world taking in rednecks, shopping malls and the military before gathering speed in recent years with faster flesh-eaters from Zack Snyder, Danny Boyle and Plaza/Balaguero. The original voodoo inspiration has been replaced by infections, experiments gone wrong and more modern reasoning to suit the supposedly less gullible viewer.
Shooting in Burkina Faso and Ghana and showing off tremendous vistas, The Dead is very much a film about its setting. This is not to say that it is overtly political, but it does offer a view of a post-colonial world with civil war, western intervention and black-white tension that is a little more explicit than many of the determinedly exploitative undead entries from the past. What I am saying is that this is a film of baking heat, grinding poverty, littered human remains and tribal locales.Paced very deliberately, the story follows an escaping aid worker who survives a plane crash only to find himself beached and about to be a main course of some shambling fellows of a deathly pallor. Running for his life, looking desperately for a way home, he is on the verge of becoming zombie nosh when a passing soldier, Daniel, rescues him. A bond forms as the two search for one's lost son and the other's need for overseas transportation.
Any number of the films from Italian film factory of the seventies and eighties had a rather unpleasant sense of late era imperialism about them. This is a risk that the Fords' film runs with the African populace served up as either gun fodder or pleading victims, not to mention that they make up the almost entire racial profile of the undead. The camera fetishizes the landscapes, the poverty and the underdevelopment, and themes of ritual and superstition are offered iconically for atmosphere. At times, this is almost a zombie travelogue such is the lingering over landscapes and peoples.Yet, this is not wholly exploitative and the final twists suggest a unity of first and third worlds in an intriguing art-house conclusion. The extras are far from the best actors and the lack of charisma of the lead could be seen as a definite choice of artistic integrity or less charitably as a little bit of a turn-off. Still, the cinematography is beautiful and there is a basic intelligence that deserves to be rewarded by a decent sized audience taking advantage of this format and catching the film at home.
Technical SpecsAnchor Bay presents The Dead on a region B encoded BD25. The transfer is encoded at 23.98 frames per second and the transfer has a file size of some 19.1GB. The Dead was shot on 35mm and this transfer does show some of the grain of the original print, although images do look very digital to me. Detail is not top notch and the contrast isn't as graded as could be hoped. Sadly, there are some obvious examples of edge enhancement and the overall quality of the video is average.There is a single audio option for the main soundtrack which is an effective and atmospheric TrueHD 5.1 mix. Coverage and good spatial mixing of effects across the channels are the chief features of a competent if not particularly striking track. Hard of hearing English subs complete the audio options.
Special featuresThe Brothers Ford pop up for a commentary track where they explain that this project had it's roots in a script from the mid eighties. They explain how they cast local people and one particularly gruesome moment is revealed as a cameo for one of them. They admit to using their lead's malaria for effect and rowing with him as well. It's a sincere, fluent commentary which underlines what a feat of endurance making the film was.
A full raft of HD extras includes an interview reel shot with the two brothers, Freeman and the producer. Problems with local graft, transport and a lack of equipment are explored, along with a sincere belief in the film. A lower video quality is evident in the interview with Osei who talks about his audition and his hope that one day he will get to Hollywood. The final inclusion is a time-coded deleted scene which opens up some explanation of what caused the epidemic and introduces another Western character.
SummaryThe Dead is a worthwhile addition to the genre which maintains a seriousness of purpose that is quite admirable. This is not a magnificent transfer but it is most definitely one to catch for those who like intelligent well crafted horror.
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