THE STORY – On a hot summer day in Oslo, the dead mysteriously awaken, and three families are thrown into chaos when their deceased loved ones come back to them. Who are they, and what do they want?
THE CAST – Renate Reinsve, Bjørn Sundquist, Bente Børsum, Anders Danielsen Lie, Bahar Pars & Inesa Dauksta
THE TEAM – Thea Hvistendahl (Director/Writer) & John Ajvide Lindqvist (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes
Don’t be fooled: “Handling the Undead” is undeniably a zombie movie, from maggot-covered head to rotting toe. But, those expecting anything like the energetic modern zombie movies such as “28 Days Later” won’t find that here. Even the half-century-old classic “Night of the Living Dead” is more consistently dynamic than this film. This isn’t to say that “Handling the Undead” is uncompelling or lacking in horror. Still, the deliberate pacing and seemingly willfully withholding nature of what it chooses to do or not do with its reanimated dead may test the patience of even the most open-minded of filmgoers.
The film follows three families in modern-day Oslo who are all dealing with the recent deaths of loved ones. One day, a vast power outage precedes an unexpected event: their recently deceased family members, along with other newly dead people, are suddenly brought back to life — or rather, something resembling life. These three family units must all face their new reality and attempt to achieve something close to normalcy in the face of the unholy miracle.
“Handling the Undead” does something that most zombie movies – or, in fact, most films in general – fail to do; it reckons with the reality of what would happen if the extraordinary inciting incident were to occur to your average person (or here, to groups of people), and the ways they would or wouldn’t adapt to their new, uncharted situation. In this case, the reawakened dead seem to come back to life in reversing the death process. At first, they’re immobile, silent, and don’t do much besides just lie there. This minimal level of liveliness is distressing, and the film treats this with proper reverence. And, while the characters all have some level of excitement to see that those they thought were gone forever are walking among them once more, that joy is overwhelmed by the apprehension and uncertainty that comes with facing something so against nature. The physical forms are back, but what about their souls?
The overall tone is perfectly calibrated to make the audience feel a similar level of dread as the characters. Everything about the film feels gloomy, from the unpretentious interiors to the muted colors, captured well by the film’s impressively dreary cinematography. And the pace is slower than even the most sedate zombie. The whole thing feels like a lengthy funeral you’re eager to leave. This steady tempo is occasionally interrupted by sound effects from everyday objects — a fan, a door, and a phone — that are much louder than expected, giving occasional jolts that keep the audience on edge. Peter Raeburn’s score also provides the film with a feeling of malaise. Of course, this energy may not be for everyone, and it’s easy to be tired of how the film seems to revel in not taking the expected route for a story about reanimated corpses.
Actors Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie will undoubtedly be the most familiar faces to international audiences after their equally impressive performances in “The Worst Person in the World.” Here, Reinsve plays an entirely different type of character; she’s a mother whose grief for her dead child has completely overwhelmed her life. And, smartly, once her son comes back to her, she’s not instantly better. Reinsve has an omnipresent sadness to her, even when she’s not saying or doing anything. Danielsen Lie is perfectly pitiable as a man who suddenly finds himself in charge of two headstrong kids following the sudden death of his wife. He has an unendingly sympathetic quality, which is only deepened by his attempts at optimism for his children’s sake.
“Handling the Undead” is far from a typical horror movie. It seeks not to necessarily terrify audiences but to instead fill them with a sense of unease to appropriately mirror the characters’ fictional reality. And conjuring that horrifying feeling may be more upsetting than what most horror films can do.