Key to what made the Ford brothers' feature debut The Dead (2010) a success was its placement of oldschool zombie archetypes into a minimalist storyline amidst astonishing natural locales shot very wide (as though in reference to that other filmmaking Ford). Although this sequel (of sorts), relocated from Africa to India, treads similar ground - an American engineer as fish-out-of-water protagonist, a cross-country odyssey with spiritual underpinnings, a separated lover, a son surrogate, and a doom-laden climax in a beleaguered fortress - The Dead 2: India pales in comparison, and not just for its inherently silly title. The stunning visuals and sweeping, swooping camerawork are certainly still in place and very much welcome as part of the Fords' expansive signature - but unfortunately everything else that was understated or stripped down in the original has also been expanded, leading to a starchy feast that overstuffs the palate. A lot less would have been so much more - and so much more satisfying - but all the bloat leaves the viewer little room to breathe.
Our American hero Nicholas (Joseph Millson) races across India toward the Mumbai slum where his pregnant girlfriend Ishani (Meenu Mishra) lives with her disapproving, overbearing father (Sandit Datta Gupla). Nicholas' goal is not just to rescue Ishani from zombie hordes, but also to redeem himself after having abandoned a previous pregnant girlfriend in America - while Ishani finds herself trapped between her father's patriarchal traditions, and the new opportunities (and risks) offered by her would-be white knight. Chance (or destiny) partners Nicholas with rural orphan boy Javed (Anand Gopal) who improbably speaks perfect English, and the result is just too much damn talk, accentuating the flaws of some rather hokey writing, and overstating every theme to the point where any subtle resonance can no longer be heard.
There is much cod-spiritualist discussion of karma's balancing act, but that hardly excuses the way that the story circles in on itself with numbing repetition. If Nicholas is not stopping at a building, coming under zombie attack and moving onto the next stop, then Ishani and her dad are shown unbarring the door of their home, seeing the zombie chaos outside, and barring it again - all in an alternating pattern that serves only to disrupt any tension, chopping up both storylines into identikit episodes. It does not help that Mishra and Gupla are not experienced enough actors to breathe any life into their domestic melodrama. When the ending not only brings Nicholas, Ishani and Javed (not to mention Javed's long-lost mother) together in a place of which Nicholas has had recurring dreams, but also has them living out a local legend that they had previously seen painted on a temple wall, it is difficult to know which is worse: the contrived coincidences or the confused message.
There is much craft on show in the technical aspects of this film's production, but like the traditional zombies at its core, The Dead 2: India is slow, sluggish and soulless - and despite the titular prominence of India, the country's presence as the only real character is also the film's most troubling aspect, offering at best broad strokes of touristic colour , and at worst shades of colonialism.
'The Dead 2: India' screens at Film4 FrightFest 2013...
Main Screen, Thurs 22nd August, 6.30pm
Follow Anton on Twitter: @AntBit