Spoiler-Free Film Review: “Handling the Undead” (Sundance Film Festival)

January 28, 2024

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

I’m a very hard sell on new zombie movies. In a subgenre of horror films that I personally feel is growing ever weaker on originality, I’m open minded, however, in finding new discoveries with a unique take on things. Director Thea Hvistendahl’s Norwegian feature Handling the Undead — adapted from Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s (Let The Right One In) novel, with a screenplay cowritten by the pair — is one such film, a remarkable dramatic take on the undead.

Handling the Undead focuses on grief rather than gore as three families who have lost loved ones find that their deceased members have returned to life — in a sense — after a mysterious phenomenon occurs. The returned ones are weak, barely breathing and sometimes barely moving. The hope from their family members and lovers is felt along with confusion and unease. They have already been grieving, and some now fear that they may lose their loved ones once again. Events gradually grow darker in this slow burner, which concentrates on misery rather than mayhem and heartbreak rather than outright horror.

Hvistendahl directs masterfully, and this dread-filled offering looks great thanks to Pål Ulvik Rokseth’s splendid cinematography. Renate Reinsve’s powerful performance as a mother mourning the loss of her young son only to come home from work one day and discover that he — or at least some form of him — is back in their home leads a marvelous cast that also includes fine starring turns from Bente Børsum as a woman who has just recently buried her lover and Anders Danielsen Lie as a father having to try to explain to his two children about their mother dying and inexplicably returning to life.

Handling the Undead is a haunting drama boasting top-notch production values, solid direction, and memorable performances. Viewers looking for gory zombie action will go away highly disappointed, but those seeking a quiet, alternative spin on the undead genre should find the film a work that chills in different ways than usual.

Handling the Undead screens as part of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, which runs in Salt Lake City and Park City Utah, from January 18–28 with a virtual option from January 25–28. For more information, visit https://festival.sundance.org/.



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