In the realm of zombie-themed films, a genre often fliled with clichés and predictable plot lines, Handling the Undead aims to stand out as something different.
Directed by Thea Hvistendahl, and written by Hvistendahl and John Ajvide Lindqvist, the film stars Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Bjørn Sundquist, Bente Børsum, Bahar Pars, Inesa Dauksta, Olga Damani, and Kian Hansen.
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The story takes a subtle approach, diverging from the expected scenes of chaos and horror, while focusing on three families set against a backdrop of an apocalyptic event. The narrative is an exploration of human response to the unimaginable.
Handling the Undead opens with the camera hovering over a large apartment complex in the middle of a hot Oslo summer. Mahler (Sundquist) walks up the stairs to an apartment where his granddaughter (Reinsve) is blasting bossa nova music and painting her toenails before getting ready for work. There are pictures of a young child around the house, but based on the melancholic energy in the apartment, the child isn’t home — and not because they are at school. It’s suggested this may be why the two have a fraught relationship.
The film shifts to Tora (Børsum), an elderly woman at the funeral of her beloved Elisbet (Damani). Once Tora is done honoring the body, she catches a cab home and ignores all calls. There doesn’t seem to be any other family members in her life, and without her lover, she lives alone and mopes about the house in a perpetual state of mourning.
Eva (Pars) and her teenage daughter Flora (Dauksta) also have a strained relationship. Flora is instructed to take care of her brother, Kian (Hansen), while she goes out, and her father David (Lie) prepares for his first comedy show.
Both parents leave and go their separate ways. While driving, she hears a strange, alarming noise on the radio. This sound is from the result of an electrical storm that sends the area into a frenzy. Car alarms blare, street lights blink on and off, and it emits a piercing frequency that causes people who hear it to topple over unconscious. When electricity fizzles out and things go dark, the dead rise. Whatever state of decay they are in is how they wake up.
In the landscape of zombie cinema, a genre full of predictability, Handling the Undead emerges not as a full-fledged horror film but a unique, slow burn, dominated by drama and avoiding jump scares, for a haunting and atmospheric journey.
Hvistendahl and Lindqvist’s script is anchored in the premise of a world where the undead rise not with a bang, but a whimper. It delves into an exploration of human emotion and reaction in the face of the unexplainable. This isn’t about surviving zombies. It’s about how individuals handle seeing their loved ones again after death.
The film’s strength lies in its narrative, seamlessly connecting three distinct family dynamics linked by the common thread of loss. There’s a palpable sense of shock that permeates through the story, capturing the spectrum of human responses — denial, acceptance and confusion — in the face of loved ones returning from six-feet under.
Directorial finesse is evident in the fluid transitions between stories, maintaining coherent movement without ever feeling disjointed. It excels in its minimalist approach to dialogue, relying on visual storytelling and sharp use of sound to convey mood. It’s a testament to the Norwegian knack for silent storytelling, where emotions resonate louder than words.
As the film progresses, there’s a subtle shift towards more familiar zombie tropes that the film didn’t need, and pacing issues do exist with scenes that don’t serve a purpose to move the story forward. But these things don’t overwhelm or get in the way of the overall central theme: the necessity of letting go.
Handling the Undead is a reminder that in death, the essence of our loved ones is forever altered. It’s a somber commentary that harps on humanity’s inability to cope with the dead’s return and how, in our desperation to cling to the past, we usher in our own downfall.
The film stands out for its measured approach to a typically action-packed genre, and challenges viewers to confront their notions of loss and acceptance, delivering an emotionally resonant message long after the credits roll.
Title: Handling the Undead
Festival (Section): Sundance (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)
Director: Thea Hvistendahl
Screenwriters: Thea Hvistendahl and John Ajvide Lindqvist
Cast: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Bjørn Sundquist, Bente Børsum, Bahar Pars, Inesa Dauksta, Olga Damani, Kian Hansen
Sales agent: Einar Film Drama
Running time: 1 hr 37 min
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