The zombie movie has few storytelling avenues beyond attack-chomp-slaughter-run, and George Romero has by now explored them all, and memorably. What separates new entry “The Dead,” then, is its physical arena: the harsh, withering expanse of northwest Africa.
By setting their zombie-pocalypse in a war-torn region of unforgiving climate, punishing earth and decimated villages, British filmmaking brothers Howard J. and Jon Ford — who filmed in Burkina Faso and Ghana — get an initially visceral metaphoric punch not unconnected to the routinely troubling news media images often beamed from this ravaged continent.
The story brings together a last surviving, white American engineer (Rob Freeman) and a native soldier (Ghana-born star Prince David Osei), who’s left his regiment to search for his son, setting up a road movie that covers the usual zombie-flick agenda: bickering, carnage, survival heroics, gory kills, sacrifice. But the usual fanboy exhilaration from splattery effects work is tainted by the disturbing geopolitical undertone of its undead metaphor: diseased, hungry Africans meeting gruesome ends by hands both white and black.
“The Dead,” evocatively filmed in grainy 35mm, might carry the cinematic vibe of an old-school, flesh-eating adventure, but as it should be with stories like this, it’s not a pretty picture.
“The Dead.” MPAA rating: R for bloody zombie violence and gore. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. At AMC Universal CityWalk Stadium 19, Universal City.