Howard J. Ford’s The Dead (2010) – starring Rob Freeman and Prince David Oseia – takes the zombie film to the vast and parched continent of Africa, treading new territory in an attempt to breathe new life into a tired and worn out genre. When the last evacuation flight out of war-torn Africa crashes off the coast, American Air Force Engineer Lt. Brian Murphy (Freeman) emerges as the sole survivor in a land where the dead are returning to life and attacking the living. When his path clashes with that of Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Oseia), whose village has been torn apart by the reanimated dead, they join forces in an attempt to survive, fighting their way across the incredible vistas of Africa as the world succumbs to the deadliest of viruses.
The Dead’s first shots instantly establish a sense of displacement and create a true sense of isolation by framing the film’s protagonist Murphy amidst the barren and burnt landscape of the desert, fending off the lifeless and bloodthirsty dead. Ford’s use of location immediately demolishes any preconceptions that the audience has of the zombie film and sets-up a unique backdrop for the movie – the lifelessness of his zombies are mirrored by the sparse, vacant and charred land that surrounds them giving zombie fans a completely different experience of the stylised genre.
Following the opening scene of the movie the audience is quickly cast back in time to see the plane crash that leads to Murphy’s isolation in the desert, setting up a potential for story and suggesting that the opening shots are at some point in the not to distant future. For this reason, while the film is given a sense of inevitability from the off – something not to alien to the genre – it appears as though the filmmakers are attempting to offer something a little more, yet for the first 50 minutes very little takes place aside from an abundance of the usual surprise zombie attacks and the establishment of a buddy theme when Murphy meets Sergeant Dembele.
However, The Dead is brimming with some fantastic B-movie type gore shots, à la Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987), which will have fans of the genre frothing at the mouth and does offer something different with its use of location that is not only topical but enhancing to the movie in a way that is unique to the genre as the lack of man made infrastructure keeps its focus on the human cost of disease and death.
While one shouldn’t expect the highest calibre of performance from a zombie movie the lack of a single decent central performance does detract from its unique ideas and its social awareness that gave it the potential to do something really different with a tired out genre. Rob Freeman’s delivery of Murphy’s lines is weak and unconvincing, whilst Prince David Oseia’s performance is equally as flawed; if it was not for the performance of the film’s supporting actors, who play the deceased, The Dead would be a complete flop.