The ingredients that make a successful film versus an unsuccessful film are diverse. The most successful films, in my opinion, grab you from the very beginning, building from scene to scene and delivering a dynamic and unforgettable conclusion.
Unsuccessful films, too, are composed of varied ingredients…often resulting in something less than memorable. An unsuccessful film, for example, can have good acting voided by a weak script, or a good script hurt by bad acting. The direction could be pedestrian…the effects unimpressive or, worse, laughable. Then there are those films that are firmly average. They may be good enough to entertain you while you’re watching them, but the moment they’re done, so too is your interest in them.
Then there are those in between films. Movies that are “near misses”, containing so very many great features yet…yet don’t quite successfully cross the finish line.
The Dead (2010), as it turns out, is to me a pretty good example of just such a near miss. A very near miss.
The Dead is, yes, another exercise in the seemingly endless zombie genre (they’re everywhere, from TV to movies to apps to video games). The most unique element of this particular movie, however, is the setting: Africa.
In brief: The last flight of white foreigners leaving Africa after the zombie plague began crash lands. One of the very few survivors of the flight, Lt. Murphy (Rob Freeman), a mechanic/mercenary, tries to reach civilization alone. He eventually runs across another survivor, Sgt. Dembele (Prince David Oseia), an African military officer who abandoned his post and is searching for his son. Together, the two try to find some hope in this hopeless new world.
Again, there is plenty to like here, even if the plot is far from earth-shatteringly original. The zombie plague is presented in a harrowing way…the dead are quite literally everywhere, and one must not only fight them, but also the harsh African elements if there is any hope to survive. The cinematography and setting is at times breathtaking. This is territory we’ve rarely seen in film. Further, the effects and acting are also quite good. For those into gory effects, there’s plenty of it to see here, along with some great scares.
However, despite all the good, to me the film simply runs out of gas as it nears its end. I don’t want to give away any too many details, but in general I’ve found that zombie plague stories tend to end in one of two ways: 1) depressingly, as demonstrated in the original zombie plague film, Night of the Living Dead, wherein the entire cast is wiped out and we’re left with the feeling that civilization is very much doomed or 2) depressingly but with at least one ray of hope, as presented in the sequel to that film and perhaps greatest zombie plague film of them all, the original Dawn of the Dead. In that movie’s case, while most of the cast does wind up dead, the movie concludes with a feeling that the very few that have survived can and will fight on.
The Dead follows this formula. However, in this instance it felt like the ending was too “artsy” and symbolic. It was, unfortunately, my impression that the filmmakers, talented though they were, had a great idea for a story and had all these intriguing sequences they wanted to put into it, but were simply unclear on how they would wrap it all up. So they went for the formula ending but in this case, it just didn’t work.
However, having said all that, if you’re a fan of the zombie plague genre and are looking to kill a few hours watching just that, you’d do a lot worse than give The Dead a try. For all others, you may be better off going to the original two George A. Romero directed classics.