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  • Writer's pictureJamie

Handling the Undead - Review

Handling the Undead is a film that I heard a lot of buzz about coming out of the main Sundance festival earlier this year, I was excited by the concept because I do think the zombie genre is very saturated but is often focused on the survival aspect, with hints and flashes of humility for who these zombies used to be. Thea Hvistendahl’s debut feature takes the concept of zombies and makes them something to be sadder than usual about. Following three stories where they explore the grief through the monkey's paw wish of bringing their loved ones back from the dead. 

The three stories in the film are all connected in their grief, with one being a young family dealing with a very recent loss, a mum and her dad losing her son and an older woman losing (what I assume is) her partner. 

They are all at similar stages of having lost their loved ones, with the mum and grandfather being the only ones having buried their deceased. We see them all at the beginning in different stages of loss, with moments of joy or denial. 

Some of the horror elements of the film come in as the dead rise, where we see the world react through electrical anomalies and a lot of flickering lights. Even though the world is not apocalyptic in this film, it does feel eerily empty, adding to the little bit of uncomfortability you feel at the opening stages. 

From then on, the horror only comes in the “zombiness” of the dead and a deeply upsetting scene later in the film. Once the dead are back, the emotional side of the film comes into play as the families deal with the loss or reunion of their people. 

I think for me, this is where the film lost me a little bit. I loved a lot of the elements in each story but the decision to have three stories included in it meant I felt like you lost a lot of the ability to connect with these characters. You get glimpses into their lives and then have to make up a backstory based on what you are given. I don’t think that’s always a negative in films, it gives you some creative freedom, however in this film I felt like it was cut for time.  For me, a much stronger story is focusing on any of the three of these stories more in depth and giving you more to cling on to emotionally. 

While I wasn't the biggest fan of the choices made in the adaptation of the book it was based on, I loved the look of the film, which felt small but not cheap. The camera was very distinct in its choices on what to show and more importantly, for how long. The film lets you sit in the world with it, watching the end of something, like a door close fully or a train leave the frame. There is something really “correct” about how the editing felt for me, where it just boldly knows where it wants us to look. I do think this editing adds a lot to both the uncomfortability and the emotional resonance depending on which type of shot it holds on.  

So overall I love the concept of the film, along with the look but just couldn’t grip onto the emotional ties of Handling the Undead. I think that Hvistendahl has a good grasp on what they need to do to create an atmosphere and with a stronger narrative behind them, I think I could be emotionally destroyed by their work, which I look forward to. 


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