Frighfest 2013 Review: THE DEAD 2: INDIA Is A Visually Stunning Zombie Road Movie That Goes Nowhere New

I have not seen Howard Ford and Jon Ford's The Dead, and I wasn't sure going in to the sequel if that would hinder my understanding or enjoyment of it. I was informed that The Dead 2: India bears no narrative relation to the first one (other than the presence of zombies), so following the story would not be a problem. And it wasn't; it was straightforward.

But as for enjoyment... well, I can say that I didn't hate it, as I often do when the zombie trope gets pulled out yet again. The Fords do seem to be trying to dig a little deeper into metaphor and social commentary; but while The Dead 2 certainly has more to recommend it than a lot of recent zombie films, it isn't that great either.

Nicholas (Joseph Millson) is an American engineer working for company that builds and repairs wind turbines in India. His local girlfriend, Ishani (Meenu Mishra), calls to tell him that she's pregnant, and her father will not approve. Of course this is the point at which all hell breaks loose as a sailor who was bitten in Africa (this is where the first film carries over) is now spreading the zombie virus. Nicholas has to travel hundreds of miles back to Mumbai to get Ishani and get them both out. On the way, he picks up an orphan boy, Javed, who offers to help Nicholas find the fastest route.

So the story is simple and straightforward, it has love and family conflict, cultural divides, and zombies. Though the zombies don't really seem to serve as any kind of particular metaphor, unless it is that the only ones seen are Indian. There are no westerners besides Nicholas, except towards the end with the suggestion that countries with military power will sooner destroy everyone in a non-white country, both zombie and otherwise, rather than rescue them; so this could be a reference to the US drone bombings, but lack of exploration makes this fall a little flat. 

On their journey Javed tells Nicholas an old Hindu tale of a clandestine affair between a princess and a poor man, who had a child, but were walled up in a tomb for disobeying the girl's father. So the story provides a reflective metaphor. However, after learning that not only are the Ford brothers from the UK, but their star is as well, one of my big questions is: why is Nicholas an American? There is far more symbolism in the postcolonial relationship between the UK and India, and it would have added an extra layer of subtext that I think the Fords were grasping for, to raise the film above the run-of-the-mill zombie film.

The film isn't entirely without merit. It is visually stunning, with some wonderful panning shots of the gorgeous and sometimes hostile Indian landscape, and the Fords make excellent use of colour. And with some notable exceptions (such as guns with limitless supply of bullets), I really appreciated that it did not ask me to suspend by disbelief too much in regards to Nicholas' actions. One of my pet peeves in horror films is when characters constantly do stupid things, things we know they would never do in real life in the same situation because it just isn't logical. Nicholas was always logical and consistent: he figures out quickly how to kill the zombies, he knows his priorities are fast transportation, water; and he properly checks every building for zombies before going in. So even if he has bad luck, he still makes the right decisions, so I found it easy to empathize with him as a character.

So there were some good moments, though the zombie 'action' wasn't really anything new or interesting. These are slow zombies, so as usual the danger doesn't come as much from them. (I will say though, there were several times where we asked to accept that, even when surrounded by zombies, Nicholas did not get bitten). 

So what we have in The Dead 2 is a road movie, with zombies. And while the Ford brothers keep a logical consistency with the road portion, in that Nicholas has obstacles to overcome but keeps moving, the film overall is dragged down by too many scenes without enough substance to contemplate deeper meaning. It remains in a space where the narrative isn't strong enough as an interesting zombie story, but the action isn't good enough to make it an action zombie film.
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