US army mechanic Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) wakes up on a beach in West Africa, having survived a plane crash. The country is in chaos. It is everyone for themselves – and the dead are walking the African wilderness.
The Dead is a 2010 horror movie written and directed by Jon and Howard J. Ford, in which the zombie apocalypse comes not in American suburbia, but in the middle of Africa. It is an incredibly clever film, because it takes a very well-worn sub-genre of horror – the zombie movie – and applies it to an intriguing and distinctive setting.
There has been a trend over the last decade-and-a-half to have film zombies break into a run, pretty much started by Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later, and that is a trend that The Dead refreshingly avoids. Instead it uses the shambling, stumbling breed of zombie, and uses that to tremendous effect. When Murphy is desperately trying to put a wheel back onto a jeep, and you can see the dead shuffling towards him in the background, it is about as tense as anything in a horror movie in recent years.
It is a really distinctive film as well, which helps when swimming in an ocean of cheap, independent zombie flicks. Shot on location in Burkina Faso by British filmmakers, it was apparently a genuine struggle to get the film made. That effort and perseverance has paid off handsomely, however, as the stripped-down, sun-bleached aesthetic of the film works tremendously in its favour. There really has not been a zombie thriller quite like this one; although it did lead to an India-set sequel – which I have not seen.
Of course there is an elephant in the room here, in that this is ultimately a horror movie about a white man being hunted down by a horde of Africans who want to eat him. There is something more than a little uncomfortable about that. Despite a lot of work clearly done to emphasise the damage that the Americans and other citizens of the developed world have done to West Africa, the intended social comment does feel a little buried underneath an obvious unintended one. There are very positive and pro-active African characters in this movie, which is fantastic, and the setting gives the film a really fresh basis on which to build a zombie movie, but the ultimate thrust of it can’t be written away: this is a film about an educated, clever white man on the run from mindless, cannibalistic Africans. I still can not quite make up my mind about that, and it has been some years since I originally watched the film.
If you move past this issue though, at least the best you can, this is a slickly shot traditional horror movie given fresh life via a new setting and a new angle. How many films do you see set in Africa? How many horror movies manage to generate tension and scares in full daylight? This is a strong, valuable addition to the zombie movie pantheon, and a must-see for horror fans of all persuasions.