There are no shortage of zombie films out there, so to decide to undertake the making of one, you better be damn sure you’re bringing something new to the table. With “The Dead,”‘ The Ford Brothers have crafted a story about two men trying to survive in West Africa after a massive zombie outbreak. Shot in Ghana, featuring a cast of hundreds of extras, all Ghana natives, they’ve produced a well-shot, at times intense and original, but ultimately flawed, film.
Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman), an army engineer, is on the last evacuation plane out of Africa, where hoards of zombies are roaming the country, massacring people in their path, when the plane goes down by the coast. After barely surviving an attack, he sets out to try and contact the American military for assistance. Meanwhile, back at a small village, already devastated by the undead, Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia, who we’re told is the Tom Cruise of Ghana) discovers the remains of his wife and begins his search for his son, who was rescued by the local militia. The duo eventually meet and work together trying to survive. Dodging a constant barrage of attacks, fighting to find gas, food, water and make contact with any survivors, a sense of dread for the duo permeates the screen.
The Ford Brothers are successful in creating a believable world, where zombies are everywhere. Never does five minutes pass without a glimpse of the walking dead. They’re crawling out of the bush, shuffling down the roads, climbing out of buildings and are a constant presence, which creates an effective air of peril for our two heroes. The Fords make the most of the countryside, providing some beautiful shots worthy of Wild Kingdom, if Marlin Perkins had to hack zombies.
Howard Jonathan Ford, who was in attendance of our screening, regaled us with stories about the difficulty of shooting in Africa. Plagued by muggings, having equipment stuck in port and having the lead actor nearly die from a bout of malaria, it’s a wonder “The Dead” was actually made. There’s been some criticisms about the movie being racist, but I shrug that off, not seeing any of it, as it’s based in Africa and the attacking hoard is as should be. However, it’s not hard to see some of the country’s strife in the film, and it’s even acknowledged in a scene where Sgt. Demebel meets another militia man who states that there is no more war between the people, only a new war and they need to work together.
Sadly, while “The Dead” is successful in some ways, the tedium of the second act is painful. Journey films need to be punctuated by drama or action and while there’s a consistent amount of attacks, the movie ends up feeling rubber stamped for about 30 minutes. How do you know its another day? Yet another sunrise shot. Is it getting dark? Yes, another sunset shot. Presenting some great scares early on, it’s unfortunate the same excitement isn’t there in later scenes and the finale feels abrupt but welcome.
I admire the The Fords for creating a zombie film that actually is the closest thing I’ve seen on screen to a World War Z inspired world. And while the hardships endured to create “The Dead” are admirable, shamefully the payoff leaves one wanting more.