Back in 2010, the Ford brothers won over the hearts of zombie puritans everywhere with their African-set horror film The Dead, which many praised for paying homage to 70s and 80s Romero classics where zombies shuffled slower than myself waking up with a whiskey hangover. I, on the contrary, found the Ford’s delivery to be bland and characterless, reducing pacing to a sluggish stumble, but my complaints are some viewers’ main points of approval. For those simpletons, I can confirm The Dead 2 will satisfy your “Walkers Only” stance, as the Fords have repurposed Mumbai for their newest zombie thriller – and in the same breath, if you’re more like me, this undead sequel shambles about with the same vapid pulse that let The Dead become so recognizable.
With no real correlation to The Dead, the Ford brothers introduce us to an American turbine engineer named Nicholas (Joseph Millson) who must find his way to Mumbai during a zombie apocalypse, only with the intention of saving his pregnant wife. Separating him from his love exists about 300 miles of zombie-infested territory, and even though the danger moves without any urgency, one bite and his life as a human is completely over. Surviving the zombie apocalypse is one thing, but surviving in the name of love raises already deadly stakes – especially when the only help Nicholas receives comes from an orphaned boy who acts as his tour guide.
I’m not thrown by the difference between break-neck Danny Boyle “zombies” who are rabid infected beasts and Romero’s original zombie monsters who shamble about as undead creatures in the least bit, as both methods lend themselves to some fantastic zombie tales, but instead by the Ford’s ability to let their slow-moving zombies infect The Dead 2, slowing down atmospheric pacing to a crawl. An overabundance of slow-motion scenes all but stop zombies in their tracks as Nicholas attempts numerous daring escapes, unnecessarily adding a level of tensionless questions about survival while it takes a zombie twenty minutes just to ascend a flight of stairs. Nicholas never feels endangered, as apparently he’s the only human in Mumbai able to fight his way through hordes of zombies while typical civilians simply stand around waiting to be eaten, very much in the vein of World War Z where no matter what danger Brad Pitt finds himself in, you know some crazy scheme won’t let him perish. I get that he’s the main character, but a little terror goes a long way in horror – which should be self-explanatory.
The Dead 2 repeats the Ford brothers’ buildup of danger, which fans already know and understand – show one zombie, pan back to terrified civilians, swing the camera back around to reveal a whole herd of zombies who appear out of thin air, then pan back to gnarly flesh-tearing and bleeding. The Fords can’t help themselves when it comes to long tracking shots either, whether capturing Nicholas’ insignificance when dangling off the side of a gigantic wind turbine or sprawling across desolate Indian deserts where a handful of zombies saunter aimlessly about, again highlighting their undying obsession with calculating fear in the most minimal forms. Their cinematic eye favors scenic dustiness, much like the African villages featured throughout The Dead, and India gives the brothers a chance to record similar settings in a totally different continent – a sly move staying in their wheelhouse. Trade some muddy huts for populated Mumbai slums, switch out the English militant main character, give him a new sidekick in the form of a local child and you’ve got The Dead 2!
But what once again lingers is an unnecessary sense of bleak nothingness, running through the motions of a typical “homage” that doesn’t make a name for itself, only mustering nostalgic nods to better movies of yesteryear. Yes, these movies return to Romero’s style where walking at a brisk enough pace will keep you out of harm’s way, but once outnumbered, chomping ensues and you’re covered in zombie hickies. Entire scenes harken back to Dawn Of The Dead, thinking specifically of Tom Savini’s goons being chewed up by consumerist zombies, but that doesn’t mean such work automatically achieves the same relevancy. The Dead 2 introduces a generic romantic backdrop to motivate Nicholas’ journey, a bunch of scareless setups accompanied by grotesque gore and a zombie escape act without a real sense of danger – just massive numbers and lots of running.
The Ford brothers have repeated the same formula that successfully gained enough attention to warrant another entry into their old-school zombie franchise, which is either fantastic news or a major letdown considering where you stand on The Dead. For me, The Dead 2 is just as meandering, just as inconsequential and just as dull as their previous effort, despite some tasty practical effects. With more slow-motion than The Matrix, prolonging Nicholas’ acts of survival that wouldn’t work for any other character, this franchise has yet to establish a unique signature besides being a love-letter to walker-friendly zombie classics. But hey, this time there are Indian zombies, so there’s that?
The Dead 2 feels like The Dead in every way, shape and form, which is either a saving grace or disappointing truth depending on how you feel about the Ford brothers' original film.