Handling the Undead is a Sorrowful Take on the Zombie Genre | Review

NEON’s newest horror film, Handling the Undead, arrives in limited theaters this week, offering viewers a very different approach to the familiar horror genre.

Directed by Thea Hvistendahl’s, Handling the Undead has been hitting the festival circuit for a little bit now (even being selected for Sundance), but is making it’s way to the masses this week. Despite being a zombie movie, you won’t find the familiar undead/post-apocalyptic tropes here.

Handling the Undead
Directed By: Thea Hvistendahl
Written By: Thea Hvistendahl and John Ajvide Lindqvist
Starring: Renate Reinsve, Bjørn Sundquist, Bente Børsum, Anders Danielsen Lie, Bahar Pars
Release Date: June 7, 2024 (Select Cities/Theaters)

Instead, the focus is on three families who’s deceased loved ones unexpectedly return. A mother, reeling from the loss of her son and trying to move on, suddenly has him back, dug from the grave. There’s an elderly lady, having returned home from her partner’s funeral, finds her waiting in the kitchen. Lastly, there’s a simple family who haven’t even had time to recognize their mother died in a car wreck, before dealing with her revival.

No one quite knows why the dead have returned, but even as we’re shown the event isn’t limited to these three families, they are who the film chooses to focus on. While there’s initial joy at their return, enough to overpower the confusion, it’s easy to see these zombies are not the same. A reality their family has to come to terms with in their own way.

Is it better to have your loved one back, even drastically changed, than not at all? What is the cost of getting even another moment of time with them? These are the ideas Handling the Undead explores, confronting audiences with the haunting truth via these three different groups and their experiences. They’re all relatable in various ways, making it easy for us to put ourselves in their shoes…and it’s scary to think you might find yourself reacting in a similar way.

As such, the horror aspect of the film doesn’t come from the terror of the unknown, or the thought of a violent end at the hand of undead monsters. Instead, the horror comes from having to dwell on the lengths people (yourself included) might go to in order to be with those they thought lost. Things eventually come to a head where the nature of this return is more apparent. Meaning the families must either accept the things beyond their control, or allow the grief to consume them.

It’s a very neat approach to zombies, and uses the familiar genre as the backdrop for a bigger examination of grief and despair. I’m just not entirely sure it works. It certainly gets the message and themes across. The production is top notch, featuring excellent composition and pacing, that does as much to convey the feeling of sorrow as the (solid) acting does. The overall story, however, is just kind of…there.

It’s very much “slice of life” showing how each of these families react/deal with their loved ones suddenly returning from the grave. Their tales don’t intersect, beyond the fact they all live in the same town, and there’s no real driving plot to it all.

This is always a struggle for me. As well done as it is, I like a story, and Handling the Undead reaches a point where it really needs one. Despite coming in just a hair over 90 minutes, it feels long. I was invested just enough to keep watching, but a lack of meaningful plot—of people doing something other than just reacting—made it start dragging pretty hard in the back half.

Handling the Undead does a lot of things right. I loved the filmmaking on display, the acting is tight, and the concept is an intriguing one. I’m always down for new takes on the zombie genre, and this is definitely one of the more unique ones. Without a central plot tying things together, however, it doesn’t hit as hard as it could.

A Different Kind of Zombie Story
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Jordan Maison
Editor-in-Chief: Writer and cartoonist who went to college for post-production, he now applies his love of drawing, movie analysis, filmmaking, video games, and martial arts into writing.
handling-the-undead-is-a-sorrowful-take-on-the-zombie-genre-reviewHandling the Undead makes good use of it's overall premise and themes, but the lack of a driving narrative holds it back from being more. I imagine those who don't mind slice of life storytelling as much as I do, will feel differently. It's certainly engaging enough to keep you interested while you're watching, I'm just not sure it's something I'd care to revisit down the road.