Among these, The Dead was greeted with a reasonable degree of claim among those genre purveyors whose opinion I place stock in. There is a fine opening with a figure in a black burnoose emerging in the distance out of the desert on foot, undoing his head wrapping as he comes into camera to reveal that it is a blue-eyed Westerner (Rob Freeman). Coming towards him is a zombie whose leg has been bared of flesh and is stumbling along on bare bone. Freemans stranger simply steps around the zombie and continues on his way, all without a word being spoken. It is a scene that has an unusually evocative effect. Indeed, in its similarly haunted use of the African landscape, The Dead undeniably reminds of Richard Stanleys fine and underrated Dust Devil (1992).
The Dead was filmed by British brothers Howard J. Ford and Jon Ford. Howard had previously directed Mainline Run (1994) and Distant Shadow (2000), an action film also set in Africa about a conspiracy to spread AIDS. The Ford Brothers shot The Dead in Burkino Faso and Ghana with a digital camera and a minimal crew. This allows them a far more expansive look than they would otherwise have achieved. For the simple fact that it is a zombie film that has attained enough of a budget to shoot internationally and takes itself seriously, this places The Dead several steps above most of its competition.
The Ford Brothers never vary too much from the George A. Romero standard. Take away the location, for instance, and give the film a more routine director and The Dead would be an unremarkable zombie film. Indeed, you have become so used to the zombie film searching for original ideas that you keep waiting for The Dead to do something radical and unexpected with the genre but, outside of the fact that it is set in Africa, it never does. Even then you keep waiting for the film to make some grand social parable about the way that the West regards contemporary Africa as a black hole of political instability, poverty and starvation, in much the same way that George A. Romero used Night of the Living Dead (1968) as a savage social metaphor for the Vietnam War or Dawn of the Dead (1979) as a satire on modern consumerism, only for it to never to do so.
The Ford Brothers conduct the survival horror aspect with a hard-edged realism. In comparison to a Romero film, the tone is not so much apocalyptically bared and fired up with social metaphor as it is quiet and low-key. The Dead is not a film that aims for hard-hitting, gore-drenched battles to the death with the zombies, rather it is concentrated on its characters and location. The location is almost all of the film and for many long stretches the dialogue has been stripped away and is either terse or minimalist. The film is concentrated almost entirely between two actors, Rob Freeman and Ghanan emigre Prince David Osei. The Ford Brothers get fine performances from the two of them, in particular Prince David Osei.
The Ford Brothers made a sequel with The Dead 2: India (2014), which told fairly much the same story against the backdrop of India. They subsequently went onto make the thriller Never Let Go (2015).