Howard and Jonathan Ford’s The Dead took the simple, surprisingly effective route of relocating a traditional zombie outbreak to the deserts of West Africa. In The Dead 2: India, the zombie plague has spread and the barren African landscape has been swapped for a fiery Indian panorama of scorched red rock, abandoned temples and teeming Mumbai slums. Dark, raw and visually stunning, the Ford Brothers’ latest feature is every bit as powerful as its predecessor.
Story-wise, we’re on familiar ground, as a new set of characters struggle to maintain their humanity amidst scenes of widespread desolation. Up and coming actor Joseph Millson stars as US electrical engineer Nicholas, who makes the decision to travel across miles of zombie-infested countryside to rescue his pregnant Indian girlfriend, Ishani (Meenu Mishra). He teams up with street-orphan Javed (played by a very likeable Anand Gopal), and the film becomes a sort of road-movie/horror hybrid as the two of them slowly head towards Mumbai, battling to survive along the way.
One of the most effective aspects of The Dead 2 is the way the location itself adds to the resonance of the on-screen horror. When a vibrant, colorful Mumbai street disintegrates into bloody, cannibalistic confusion, it’s difficult not to recall the sectarian violence, religious riots and terrorism that have rocked the city in the past. The foreign location imparts a news footage-like quality to the images, making the film feel less like escapist horror, and more like a tacit reminder of just how frightening real life can get.
The low-key, survival-first atmosphere that characterized The Dead is still very apparent here, again creating an unusual sense of realism. The focus is very much on food, ammunition and transport, rather than unnecessary heroics. A sequence in which Nicholas uses a hang glider to escape a zombie horde stands out as a moment of brief euphoria, but it doesn’t take long for the narrative– and Nicholas – to come back down to Earth.
As in The Dead, the zombies themselves conform to ‘old-school’, Romero-esque rules. There are a few ‘jump’ moments and a fair amount of gore, but the film is probably at its most disturbing when the zombies are out in the open, rather than furtively lurking behind doors. In one particularly harrowing sequence, a mother and daughter are trapped inside a crashed car. The steady, relentless approach of a group of zombies wracks the tension up to almost unbearable levels as Nicholas struggles to free the pair in time. While innovation in zombie films is no bad thing, it’s rather nice to see the traditional, slow-moving undead used so effectively. The film’s repeated shots of groups of staggering zombies against a wide, beautiful landscape are also incredibly haunting, creating a sense of waste and despair that really adds to the bleak atmosphere.
There’s a heavier reliance on emotional plot beats and human drama in this sequel than in The Dead, and unfortunately the dialogue occasionally veers into soap-opera territory, which becomes slightly grating. However, the cast is generally strong enough to pull it off, and first-time actor Sandip Datta Gupta’s performance as Ishani’s father is particularly affecting. There’s also a reveal near the end regarding Javed’s background that, if handled differently, could easily have felt overly sentimental, but luckily the film shows enough restraint to keep the moment poignant.
Overall, The Dead 2 upholds the same qualities that made The Dead such a hit. It’s atmospheric, beautifully shot, and not afraid to pack an emotional punch. Like the best zombie films, it also offers a level of implicit social commentary, with the on-screen savagery feeling alarmingly close to home at times. While The Dead 2 might be thematically similar to its predecessor, the new location, cast and storyline impart enough originality to make the Ford Brothers’ latest film a successful stand-alone sequel. Anyone craving a zombie film that’s both emotionally engaging and genuinely disturbing should definitely check it out.
Film Score: 4/5
[Editor's Note: Becki is covering FrightFest 2013 for us in London and will be bringing Daily Dead readers early reviews on a number of anticipated horror films.]