OCTOBER 9, 2013
Taking a cue from George Romero, The Dead 2: India takes place in the same universe as its predecessor, but is in no real way related (we hear a radio broadcast about how Africa is besieged with reports of violence and cannibalism, and that's it) in front of the camera, and thus doesn't require a viewing of the original. Therefore, I would actually suggest starting with this one, because it makes improvements on what is basically the same movie (albeit in the new locale), so if you haven't seen the original it will all be fresh to you, whereas for me some of the novelty had worn off, resulting in an enjoyable experience but one I might have been more blown away by had I not seen the Ford brothers' first pass at this material.
Like the first film, the Fords avoid the two main proponents of most zombie films, the first being a single or primary location (mall, farmhouse, spaceship, whatever). Our heroes are constantly on the go; I don't think hero Nicholas (Joseph Millson) stays in any one place for more than 5 minutes - which does lead to some minor repetition as he's constantly stopping, poking around, running afoul of the undead, and then getting away in the nick of time, usually with a newly found vehicle. But the upside is the scenery is constantly changing, and the pace never lulls. As with the original this is a deadly serious look at a zombie apocalypse, so it's easy to think about The Walking Dead, which often lets long stretches go by without any zombie threat - not the case here. There are never more than maybe a dozen on-screen at once, but they're ALWAYS around and slowly lumbering toward Nicholas and Javed, the young orphan who is helping him navigate his way through the wilderness in order to reach Mumbai, where his pregnant girlfriend is locked in the presumed safety of her home.
But unlike Walking Dead - and this brings me to the second thing I was happy to not see - zombies are the ONLY threat. There are no evil humans to speak of, only a few brief encounters with scared fellow humans that do things to set our hero back (such as the guy who steals Nicholas' (found) motorcycle so he could get back to his OWN family). Fans love The Governor or whatever, and that's fine, but over the years I've grown tired of seeing the threat of zombies reduced as human villains take center stage. This is unique to this genre; some monster movies may have an evil scientist or whatever, but they usually get theirs long before the film's conclusion, keeping the threat on the monster. If Robert Kirkman were writing Jurassic Park, he'd have a few scenes with Raptors, no T-Rex, and the big showdown would be dino-free as Alan Grant faced off against Nedry or the asshole lawyer. So it's nice to see a more focused, straight-forward approach in a modern zombie film, albeit without humor and on a bigger scale.
And the kid's not annoying! Some of his deliveries are a bit clunky, but he's endearing and has a wonderful moment where he explains why he keeps risking his life for a tiny doll that he carries around with him; it's pretty heartbreaking but without any precociousness (as his the bulk of his performance), so for my money it's a step up from the original's pair, since the white guy was such a wooden actor and didn't have a particularly interesting arc (Dembele, on the other hand, could have carried the movie on his own, far as I'm concerned). Again, it's a bit similar - they have different goals and have to stick together to survive as they make their way from point A to point B, but with Millson being a more engaging performer and having a sweet bond with the kid, it's the superior take on this idea. And it's certainly better than any of the scenes with his girlfriend and her father, who disapproves of her dating a white man and seemingly can't figure out that locking his door is the best thing to do (nearly every time we cut to them, he's looking outside at zombie carnage, risking their lives to take another peek). Neither of them are particularly good actors, and even with the minor threat involved in their scenes (her mother has been bit), they just kill the momentum every time.
My only other concern was (and I'm sick of saying this) digital blood flying around during most of the impact shots. I'd actually rather they were just bloodlessly going down than see a bunch of distracting pixels flying around, reducing the impact of every gore moment. I understand the Fords had a difficult shoot and were probably rushed more often than not, but just skip the blood all together, or at least for standard "Hero runs across the room and dispatches a few random undead" shots - it's one thing when it's a big kill scene in closeup - do what you gotta do there - but I doubt anyone would wonder why there was no blood in a wide shot of a zombie with its back to us being gunned down. That said, the zombie makeup is pretty spooky; the whitened eyes alongside their lightly colored attire (no hero zombies; they're all rather anonymous) made for a nice visual.
Also, it means nothing, but I love how simple the title is. It'd be typical to call it something like "The Dead: Retribution" or whatever, but if the series goes on, and each entry got its own meaningless subtitle, fans would likely just say "The one in India" anyway, so it's great that they cut to the chase. Here's hoping The Dead 3: China (Howard Ford claims this is one idea) sticks to the proven formula while once again improving the characterization (perhaps a female lead?) while avoiding the cliches that have long since become stale.
What say you?