Sibling filmmakers Howard J. and Jonathan Ford seem to be huge believers in the “Location, location, location” real estate adage. The duo — collectively known as The Ford Brothers — previously made The Dead, which was billed as “the first zombie road movie set against the spectacular scenery of Africa.” I actually wasn’t a fan of that flick, but saw enough technical skill and enough potential in the concept to make me curious about a follow-up. With The Dead 2: India, the Ford Brothers have once again transplanted old-fashioned zombie thrills to an exotic, under-explored location. Only this time, they brought a story and more engaging performers along for the trip.
The Dead 2: India features an all-new cast and a plot that is mostly unrelated to its predecessor. (The most we get are radio transmissions that allude to the African zombie crisis from the first film.) This time around, the action follows American turbine engineer Nicholas (Joseph Millson), who finds himself hundreds of miles away from pregnant girlfriend Ishani (Meenu) when the zombie epidemic begins to spread through India. Ishani and her family — including disapproving father (Sandip Datta Gupta) — find themselves trapped near the slums of Mumbai as Nicholas fights his way to the city with the help of a young orphan named Javed (Anand Krishna Goyal, making a nice feature film debut).
It’s a more conventional story than the more meditative one in 2010’s The Dead, which opened with the striking image of a zombie being dispatched as it shambled across a desert landscape. Unfortunately, those opening moments turned out to be the high point of that repetitive film for me. India similarly takes practical advantage of its unusual setting, particularly during the hectic climax that has Nicholas winding his way through the labyrinthine slums
with unlimited bullets on his way to rescue Ishani. But while the sequel’s story may be simpler, it attempts to form a stronger spiritual connection its host country. For example, Javed tells Nicholas a Jataka legend that seems suddenly relevant when the dead start coming back to life.
Lest things get too deep, this is still largely a movie about a horde of undead monsters who want nothing more than to bite into human flesh. As they did with the previous outing, the Ford Brothers favor gnarly practical effects — and amateur actors — to portray slow-moving zombie horror, which is sure to please old-school genre fans. The filmmakers also continue to do a fine job with the quietly eerie moments, like the ones that have zombies casually dotting the landscape. On the other hand, once things get hectic — as with the attack on Javed’s village — the action becomes unpleasantly muddled. The Ford Brothers also fall into some of the same episodic traps of the previous film, with Nicholas narrowly escaping peril before moving on to the next situation where he narrowly escapes peril. Late in the film, our hero is faced with a brutal decision, and it might’ve been nice to linger on Nicholas’ choice (and its aftereffects) for a bit rather than move on to the next dozen zombies that needed to be mowed down.
It does help that Millson is a considerably more compelling lead. Sure, the paternal connection father-to-be Nicholas forms with Javed is totally telegraphed and convenient, but the English actor succeeds in giving us an everyman protagonist worth pulling for. The father/daughter conflict between Ishani and her dad, on the other hand, doesn’t rise above anything we’ve seen 100 times before. Then again, the actress who plays Ishani’s mother (Poonam Mathur) only has one significant scene and gives a better performance than almost everyone in the first film, so I won’t complain too much.
I realize not many people are looking to mount Oscar campaigns based on their work in The Dead 2: India, but I believe the increased emphasis on story — to go along with the customary, extraordinary setting — is a
step shuffle in the right direction.
The Dead 2: India is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 22 mpbs. I was honestly a bit underwhelmed by this presentation. Panoramic shots that should be stunning — since The Dead 2 was filmed on location in various parts of India — instead come off routinely soft. There are also a few instances of motion blur that are largely indistinguishable from the bits of intentional distortion. The attack on Javed’s village is also quite murky, thanks to some crushed black levels. On the (literal) bright side, there are some surprisingly bold pops of color thanks to some saris and other wardrobe choices. The sun-drenched palette is also appropriately oppressive during Nicholas’ journey. Cinematographer/co-director Jonathan Ford employs quite a few stylized, slow-motion shots that invite viewer scrutiny. Unfortunately, this HD image doesn’t always hold up.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track provides strong fidelity and nice separation, even if it doesn’t offer an all-consuming sonic experience. Sub activity is mostly reserved for Imran Ahmad’s score, which also occupies a good amount of real estate in the surround sound field. The rear speakers do allow plenty of space for occasional atmospheric noises during Nicholas’ perilous adventure, along with zombie growls and other impactful (if occasionally uneven) sound effects. Dialogue comes through cleanly and effectively throughout.
All of the bonus material is presented in HD, although the on-the-set footage in the “Making of” is in rougher-looking standard definition.
The Making of The Dead 2: (29:12) On-the-set footage intercut with an interview between the Ford Brothers and Billy Chainsaw of Frightfest TV. This is more interesting than the average “Making of” on both accounts. For one, the on-the-set footage reveals a stunt gone awry that required Millson to jump kick a vehicle off the side of a mountain. Meanwhile, the Ford Brothers are candid in their interview about the difficulties of making the first film — dodging “muggings and malaria” — and how fan support spurred them to take on the sequel. (Which didn’t exactly seem like a picnic either; the brothers admit that they had to resort to bribery to get out of a sticky situation.)
Deleted Scenes: (2:21) Two scenes are presented here, though the bulk of the time is taken up by an excised moment between Ishani and her dad that actually made papa seem like less of a jerk.
The story in The Dead 2: India really is nothing special, but at least there *is* a story (and better actors) to latch onto here. Now the Ford Brothers have to come up with something new and interesting to add to the genre beyond an unusual backdrop for zombie carnage.
Though I don’t think they’ve made a great zombie movie yet, I’m curious to see where the siblings take us next. (The Dead: Outback?)