Studio: Anchor Bay Films
Director: Howard J. Ford, Jon Ford
Writer: Howard J. Ford, Jon Ford
Producer: Howard J. Ford
Stars: Joseph Millson, Meenu Mishra, Anand Goyal, Sandip Datta Gupta, Poonam Mathur, Niharika Singh
An American electrical engineer struggles to reunite with his pregnant girlfriend in Mumbai after a zombie outbreak throws India into chaos.
“The Dead 2,” which dropped the “India” subtitle somewhere between its festival circuit premiere and home video release, follows a basic plotline identical to its predecessor. Details are altered, like swapping an African soldier with a young Indian orphan, but it is otherwise the same story of an American expatriate teaming with a local to fight his way through a foreign country during a zombie outbreak.
Nicholas works as an engineer on a wind farm in India. At about the same moment when his Indian girlfriend phones with word of being unexpectedly pregnant, virtually the entire country erupts into panic as the dead return to life and begin biting the living.
There is a loose connection to “The Dead” (review here) in that a man bitten by a mad woman in Somalia returns to India under an insinuation of being patient zero. Then the outbreak is shown occurring simultaneously at locations separated by 300 miles, throwing that tie out the window or making this quite possibly the speediest spread of undead infection ever depicted.
Driven by desire to see his girlfriend and unborn baby to safety, Nicholas begins a cross-country trek by Jeep, feet, and motorcycle to reunite with his love. Along the way, Nicholas takes on a pint-sized companion, mows down shambling corpses in various fashions, and confronts a handful of dilemmas challenging his resolve, reactions, and fractured moral sanity. In other words, the usual beats one associates with a typical zombie thriller.
George A. Romero’s living dead movies, the first three in particular, use the same general premise of a band of human survivors holed up in a shelter while facing an external zombie threat. Where those films differ, and what sets them apart from one another, is in what they reveal about human behavior as depicted at unique stages of the outbreak.
“Night of the Living Dead” takes place at the epidemic’s outset. In the midst of their imperative need for immediate safety, survivors deal with confusion, spontaneous chaos, and adapting on the fly. By “Dawn of the Dead,” the ongoing struggle for survival becomes about sustained existence. Humans have evolved into a far greater danger than the zombies as the escalating situation turns into an accepted part of daily reality. That reality stretches for so long that despair reigns supreme once “Day of the Dead” arrives. Sanity is abandoned and hopelessness sets in while humans ponder a possibly meaningless purpose in a world no longer belonging to them.
With the advantage of having thrown a lasso at this rodeo before, “The Dead 2” refines the story it used previously into a more polished production. Unlike Romero’s films however, this sequel doesn’t advance its ideas, recycled or original, any further than the first movie did. It is still a story about a duo traveling from point A to point Z across desolate landscapes, cutting down corpses along the way. If “The Dead” wants to establish itself as a series with this core concept as a pattern, fine. But to avoid simply being a remake with a different cast in a different country, the script needs to progress some sort of context, commentary, or narrative meaning.
A brief flicker of philosophy comes when Nicholas’ girlfriend confronts her preacher father about how reanimated corpses challenge religious beliefs about cyclical reincarnation. This is exactly what is needed to make the India setting matter more than just visually, yet the tangent is extinguished as quickly as it is lit. Zombie movies should reflect how cultures react to societal breakdowns. But “The Dead 2” doesn’t have a firm answer to the question of what it is about, other than the umpteenth edition of loved ones fighting to reunite in the face of a crisis.
Joseph Millson is one definite improvement as the leading man. His face is unfamiliar enough that he still blends into that average Everyman quality the Ford Brothers want in their casts. Concurrently, Millson is seasoned enough to carry the tempo on the strength of his modest presence, and the film benefits from having his talents fueling the engine.
The rest of the cast… not so much. It may be the relative inexperience of the supporting players. Or it may be the requirement for everyone to speak English when it is not their first language. But several of the Indian actors speak so slowly, seemingly to ensure clear enunciation, that all fire in their words is doused whenever dialogue gets heated. Enough of a step is removed from the cadences that certain scenes, especially those involving the orphan companion, become visible exercises in merely trying to recite lines intelligibly.
As with the first film, Jon Ford’s cinematography sees a huge boost from the locale, as it should. The foreign settings are the main element making “The Dead” movies memorable, as well as what distinguishes them from their peers. Soft focus gets sloppy, and arty flourishes like wind rustling hair while the camera pulls back in slow motion overdo it here and there. Otherwise, the landscape attracts eyes to the screen, even if India’s deserted countryside is as similar to Africa’s as the two movies’ scripts are to each other.
The India of “The Dead 2” is alternately a small world or a heavily populated one, depending on the film’s need. India is a country with well over one billion bodies in its population, yet the characters in the movie have an uncanny knack of bucking ridiculously improbable odds and finding needles in haystacks. Or rather, finding random associates and estranged family members in refugee camps through storytelling serendipity alone. Main man Nicholas has the additional ability of finding himself constantly swarmed by packs of at least a half dozen zombies, even when there is nothing but hundreds of yards of empty space in every other direction.
Criticisms aside, and more could be said about the weird walking style of the zombie extras, “The Dead 2” is more tightly focused than “The Dead.” The sequel trims excessive aimless wandering, making for a movie that plays with a more consistent rhythm. The sum total of its jagged edges determine how well the entirety reads, depending on what viewers are willing to let bother them. What it comes down to is how much, if at all, someone wishes to slog through another version of a movie already seen. Not just in the first “The Dead,” but in a fair percentage of other zombie tales, too.
Review Score: 60