Handling the Undead Image

Handling the Undead

By Alan Ng | February 3, 2024

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2024 REVIEW! From Norway, Thea Hvistendahl’s Handling the Undead takes a very thoughtful (and less dangerous) approach to the zombie genre.

Handling the Undead follows three stories of grief. First is an elderly woman who is mourning the loss of her longtime partner in a funeral parlor. Second is a single mother who recently buried her son and is now living with her father. Finally, we have a family whose mother died on the operating table after a car accident.

During a strange electrical storm, the lost loved ones are reanimated back to life. The elderly woman’s deceased partner sits up from her coffin and walks home. The grandfather digs up his grandson’s grave to find him alive. Then, after pronouncing her dead, the mother comes back to life, albeit with her car crash injuries. Each of the formerly deceased is alive and well, but their cognitive functions (i.e., memories) have been lost, rendering them living dolls…so to speak.

Each family is forced to deal with the emotions and reality of the situation. The elderly woman wants to return to where they last left off as a couple. The single mother is forced to leave their home as the police try to investigate the empty grave at the cemetery. The husband, whose wife is now a zombie, has to explain to their children that mom’s a bit off.

Bente Børsum and Olga Damani appear in Handling the Undead by Thea Hvinstendahl, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Pål Ulvik Rokseth.

“During a strange electrical storm, the lost loved ones are reanimated back to life.”

Unlike your typical zombie movie, Handling the Undead is a slow and thoughtful tale about love and family…versus eating brains. When your loved one has returned, what do you do? Is your loved one the same? Can you pick up where you left off? Ultimately, tough choices have to be considered, wrestled with, and then executed.

Since the film stars no one you know, except possibly Renate Reinsve from The Worst Person in the World, all you have is a story, and when the story is over, the question is asked, what would you do? That’s sort of the fun of Handling the Undead. The choices we make are complicated but not overly complicated.

The film’s tone might be the only turnoff for American audiences. It’s very slow in pace and quiet in tone. What this does is place us at a distance from the characters…almost as if we’re watching them from outside a fishbowl. All this to say Handling the Undead is very much a foreign film.

The film could have gone much deeper than it does. I think if this was The Walking Dead, then we would explore more of the existential question of life, living, and what it means to be human. In other words, Handling the Undead is more of a philosophical journey than a survival journey.

Handling the Undead screened at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Handling the Undead (2024)

Directed: Thea Hvistendahl

Written: Thea Hvistendahl, John Ajvide Lindqvist

Starring: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Bahar Pars, Jan Hrynkievicz, Olga Damani, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Handling the Undead Image

"…could have gone much deeper than it does."

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