*** out of ****
"The Dead" possesses all the bare essentials of a zombie movie. That shouldn't be enough for it to succeed, yet here we are; with a respectable and well-made horror film with part-time elements of a road movie. Howard and Jonathan Ford (credited as The Ford Brothers) direct this familiar and not-so-original but nevertheless exciting take on the genre of the undead, demonstrating that they can uphold the task of making a few movies in one. Their film would not have been as good as it is without the desire to dabble in all sorts of different things. When it comes to succeeding in those things, it does not always work; but the fact that it tried and failed to truly embarrass itself proves that it's a worthy edition to the genre, which has grown so tired over the years that even George Romero - the man who re-invented it some time ago - has been shelling out disappointment after disappointment. The Ford Brothers take his signature slow zombies and do something interesting - although not necessarily new - with them.
A military plane crashes somewhere in the oceans of Africa. Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) is able to make it to the nearest beach by morning, already aware of what will be waiting for him upon arrival. While in the plane, we saw another human who was severely wounded come back to life and bite another man on the hand, ripping his very flesh from the bone. It would appear that the dead are returning to life, hungry for human flesh, just as they have in some other 1000+ films. The lieutenant held on to a crate that contained guns and ammunition throughout his trip from the water to the shore, and he uses these tools to defend himself until he can find other forms of civilization. He comes across a village, where one of the other establishing scenes takes place. The zombies, as slow as they are, can still cause a lot of havoc; we see fires, dead bodies everywhere, and people getting bitten in spite of their ability to run faster than these...things.
While exploring the abandoned village, the Lieutenant finds another survivor; an African soldier named Daniel (Prince David Osei), who is searching for his son (who could have either died or escaped at this point). They team up so that they may survive using their collective weapons and ammunition, although the places they go are always swarming with the undead, and those who are alive are nowhere to be found. But, as can be expected, the more they search, the more they find. Eventually they'll have to run into others who have been just as fortunate - if not more, or less - as they are. You can see where the plot is going from a mile away. But what wasn't ingeniously designed plot-wise was translated to mood and a spectacularly high body count of zombies. And that's exactly what horror fans want.
A lot of the film was shot in Burkina Faso, and already we come to what is perhaps the film's one truly unique and distinctive feature. One of the brothers - Jon - was the cinematographer and did an excellent job filling in that role. "The Dead" was shot, to my knowledge, on 35mm film and mostly on-location; so the sense of realism is 100% there. The scenery is beautiful even though horrible, violent things happen in the wilderness surrounding the worthwhile sights, and the film pays a lot of attention to the heat and the sand, perhaps hoping to establish a sort of post-apocalyptic aesthetic. The Brothers could have made an attempt to render their film a zombie part-time Western flick, although they don't seem to have big ideas or intentions. They are building upon things that have already been laid out and set in stone, but what they do with these things is what counts. You've got a movie that essentials looks and feels really good, with two solid central performances and an abundance of gore to please the blood-hounds in the audience. Maybe it's just me, but I found it all to be kind of badass.
The Ford Brothers never lose sight of the human story that is at the center of their film, even if it could have used a little more seasoning and development. The two main characters roam around on their own for a little bit before meeting up, but once they do, there's some real chemistry; even if it's mostly discreet. Don't expect many humorous scenes between the two, as this is one of those dead serious zombie flicks, but what you should expect is that they will make a good team; which they kind of do. If they are to part ways, they do not hope to know one another ever again. They treat kicking zombie ass like a business; not a partnership. They are not friends, nor really acquaintances; just people in a wasteland full of the mentally inhuman. This may not be enough "depth" to satisfy those viewers in search of deeper meaning and philosophy, and the film might work best with the hardcore zombie fanatics exclusively; but "The Dead" will someday find an audience that respects and enjoys it as much as I did, and it will deserve those people about as much as they deserve it.