EIFF: Doc Of The Dead review

Doc Of The Dead, a documentary about zombies, has its moments, but doesn't dig deep enough, reckons Andrew...

Somehow, this documentary about zombies in all forms – historical, fictional, and pop culture icon – fails to utilise The Cranberries in its soundtrack. Alexandre O Philippe (The People vs George Lucas, and owner of the world’s most Zoolanderish name) manages to fit in a bit of everything in the 80 minute running time, which breezes past pleasantly but feels sadly insubstantial.

An impressive array of talking heads (including George Romero, Simon Pegg, and the ever quippy Max Brooks) look at everything from the historical zombie, the corruption of the Haiti legend for 30s gothic horror purposes, and finally the reinventions that have occurred since Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead in 1968. There’s a lot of material covered, some wrily amusing observations, and a lot of irreverence. Some of the latter works very well, some of it doesn’t. When you’re making a documentary you can be excused if your subjects don’t provide consistent moments of humour, but less so if you as the presenter/writer/director keep trying to insert sketches with patchy results.

With the comedy tone set to glib, it’s moments of seriousness that linger longer in the memory, such as discussions of the early zombie films, Haitian history and customs, and the likelihood of a real life pandemic (the conviction of some people is scary, as is the jocular detachment of the scientist who relates evidence sure to terrify any passing hypochondriac).

It’s a shame, as there are sections that merit longer consideration than familiar discourse over zombie film history. Zombie fandom – with communities who hold walks, fashion shows and festivals – is discussed with bemusement by storytellers. Tom Savini, when asked for his zombie plan, is unequivocal over how pointless such an endeavour is (Den of Geek’s zombie plan is, incidentally, simply to win). Doc Of The Dead devotes significant time to fandom relative to its running time (explaining why geeks hold them so dear), as it does with the various products zombie fans can buy to simulate a real life zombie experience, but in trying to encompass everything it ultimately has to skim over the basics rather than going into detail.

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Meanwhile, while these sections last, we see realistic gory heads for target practice, shelters, and zombie survival experiences. When there’s something more interesting and meaty – no pun intended – in these subjects, it makes the more frivolous sections feel more lightweight. There’s plenty of comedy to be had with the interviewers, but it’s clear that Philippe is more up for a romp through the facets rather than a deeper exploration of them. The approach of presenting rather than narrating lends the documentary the vibe of an aspiring stand-up comedian being let loose on the Deadliest Warrior format.

For fans, Doc Of The Dead is a diverting enough snapshot containing enough information to inform even the most hardcore, and plenty of geekbait appearances in the interviews (though one suspects Stuart Gordon is partly there just so they can include that clip of Barbara Crampton from Re-animator), but the sheer breadth of its subject matter somewhat hinders it. However, if you’re looking for a fun, disposable watch it’s an ideal candidate, but its lightness is such that it isn’t likely to be rewatched.

Doc Of The Dead screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

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3 out of 5