When I think of The Walking Dead, the first thing I tend to picture are those big, eye-catching letters painted on doors to warn survivors, “Dead inside”. Consider the following as me picking up a can of paint, a brush, and slapping a big ole sign across this page warning that Lionsgate’s Dead Earth is, in fact, dead inside…
…A companion piece to director Wych Kaosayananda’s The Driver, Dead Earth tells a parallel story set in the same post-apocalyptic world where zombies are, get this, drawn to noise. No really, that’s the “hook”. Written by Kaosayananda and Steve Poirier, the film follows lovers Sylvia (Milena Gorum) and Rose (Alice Tantayanon) as they try to survive in a world overrun with the undead.
“Overrun” might be a stretch though, considering that not a single zombie shows up until around fifty minutes into this rotten thing.
Dead Earth opens on Sylvia and Rose in bed, going about average morning routines that aren’t so average, such as using a toilet completely wrapped in padding to dilute sound so those sound-sensitive zombies don’t catch them with their pants around their ankles. This is actually where Dead Earth is at its strongest, is in giving a look into what life without sound would look like. Much like the characters in A Quiet Place, Sylvia and Rose have developed various techniques to drown out sound, such as padded toilets, towels wrapped around faucets to collect water, and so much headphone usage they might as well be earmuffs, and all of it struck me as an interesting detail in the film.
Kaosayananda’s movie is a quiet one, with only a few words spoken in the first fifteen minutes, and maybe a few pages worth throughout the entire film. There’s no sign language either. Most of Sylvia and Rose’s communication is done through the eyes, and both actresses do a decent job of portraying love, affection and worry in the way they look at each other. But Dead Earth isn’t all that concerned about making you care for these two. It really just wants you to ogle them.
Just after the opening scene, we find Rose in the shower (cue the gratuitous ass shot), followed immediately by Sylvia in the shower (cue the gratuitous tits shot). I suppose I should give Kaosayananda credit for not giving in and just going for the full on steamy shower scene…or maybe I shouldn’t. And look, it’s not the nudity that bothers me, just that it’s the primary focus of the flick. In Dead Earth, all bras have seemingly been burned, our girls love to swim topless, lotion is rubbed onto skin often, and sex scenes between the two are shot like a classy porn, missing only a hundred burning candles. If you’re looking for one of the sexiest zombie films ever made, you found it. But if you want anything else, it becomes pretty clear early on that Dead Earth has nothing but sex to offer to keep viewers interested, which left me wondering why the film doesn’t just go full-on zombie porn parody. At least that would’ve been more entertaining.
I’m not one of those to ever comment that “nothing happens”, because there’s always something happening in film, but trust me when I say, Dead Earth is about as lifeless as the zombies that are barely in the flick. Outside of Sylvia and Rose’s love for each other, we hardly get to know a thing about these two, other than the fact that what Sylvia most misses about life before zombies is driving (get it, because The Driver?) These characters have no goal they’re headed towards. No conflict they’re dealing with for most of the film. And worst of all, they’re flat as a nail in the personality department. After forty minutes of watching them sit around in robes listening to music or slowly wandering houses, you might find yourself having an out of body experience as your soul gives you the middle finger and says screw this, I’m out.
Viewers who expect some zombie action are finally granted exactly that after fifty minutes of existential torture as a horde of zombies descend on the girls in the third act, but it’s too little too late. The zombies themselves look like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead extras that didn’t make the cut, with bluish faces and not much else. Dawn of the Dead actually seems to be an inspiration for the film, as a couple of the zombies appear to be references to specific undead in Dawn of the Dead, and there is an obscene amount of knives plunged into the temples of zombies to take them down, much like the screwdriver to the head in Dawn.
If somehow you’ve gotten through this review and are still interested in Dead Earth, but want to know if you need to see The Driver first, the answer is a resounding “hell, no!” Neither film adds any context to each other, and by the end of Dead Earth, I found myself wondering what the intention of this limping story even is. I expect we’ll be getting a third film in Kaosayananda’s zombie universe, considering how The Driver ended, and it seems like Dead Earth is supposed to give us a better understanding of these two, but with exactly zero character development for Sylvia and Rose, Dead Earth is no more than a groaning, mindless flesh-eater, just begging to be put out of its misery.
Dead Earth crawls onto DVD, Digital and On Demand January 28th, 2020 from Lionsgate.
By Matt Konopka