Saturday, October 13, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #17: THE DEAD (2010)

The Story: Two men, an American missionary and an African soldier, make their way across the desert wastes of West Africa -- now ravaged by zombies.  Their destination: Hope.

Expectations: Warning -- this is not an objective review (if there is such a thing).  I confess that I went into this film with a decided lack of enthusiasm.  Why?  Because I was feeling very skeptical that there's anything new a filmmaker can do with zombies right now.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that zombie movies are dead.  The great horror monsters can always be reinvented for new generations... but I think filmmakers and audiences alike need a little time and distance from the zombie phenomenon before the next incarnation can come around.  Right now, there are essentially two questions I ask myself before watching a zombie movie: Are we talking Romero zombies or rage zombies?  And will they be played for laughs or scares?   Too often, these distinctions seem like the only real nuances in the dozens of zombie movies that have swarmed the DTV market over the last few years.  I feel like zombie movies used to be horrifying because the characters, faced with the end of the world as they knew it, were often suffering from an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and ennui.  Now, when I watch a zombie movie, I feel like I'm the one suffering from ennui.

Reaction: THE DEAD is a "Romero zombie" movie, played straight.  The story is solid, the acting is strong, the setting and camera work is beautiful, and there's plenty of gore.  And yet.... I couldn't get very excited about the film.  For me, it played like DAWN OF THE DEAD (the original) or THE WALKING DEAD in a different milieu.  It didn't have Romero's biting humor, but it did have a moral philosophy that made it seem timely and relevant.  Like all of Romero's zombie movies, the story is about people's reaction to zombies rather than about the zombies themselves.  The plight of the two main characters is not just about physical survival, but about the survival of hope.  I genuinely liked them... and yet I had a hard time mustering any hope for them.  I felt too overwhelmed by the film's unrelenting tone of malaise. At the end of the night, I felt the same way I did at the end of THE ROAD (2009)... What's the point?  The viewing experience was neither fun nor cathartic.... and I sort of hate saying that, because I honestly admired the filmmaking and I usually like the zombie subgenre for what it is.  

I believe that anyone who doesn't feel burned out on zombies will love THE DEAD.  If you do, I'd love to hear about it.  I'd also like to hear fans of the subgenre weigh in on a few other recent zombie movies that I've got in my Netflix queue queue.  Tell me what's unique about the French zombie movie THE HORDE (2009) or the German zombie movie RAMMBOCK (2010) or the Civil War zombie movie EXIT HUMANITY (2011).  I hate to think that zombie movies are dead to me... even though I know they won't stay dead forever.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: The film's first onscreen zombie feels no pain as he shambles along on a grotesquely fractured leg... but it still hurts to watch.

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