Handling the Undead Review

From the Let The Right One In writer, this rethinks zombies and provides a dissection of life after loss and what it truly means.

Last Updated on June 3, 2024

Handling the Undead review

PLOT: 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?

REVIEW: Zombies have had a prominent place in horror for nearly a century. What started with more voodoo origins became the shambling undead of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. And that’s pretty much where zombies have stayed. Sure, the running variant has been added to the picture, but they still operate in much of the same way: aggressive eating of any human in sight. And in the same way he was able to do with Let The Right One In, screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist provides a new take on zombies in Handling the Undead.

Following three families after they deal with a tragic loss, a strange power phenomenon results in the recently deceased returning from the dead. Loss and grief are prime candidates for any horror film because they’re so universal. Some of the best zombie films deal with humans and their relationship with the dead. Past relationships and memories are put aside in favor of human food. Handling the Undead takes a look at what would happen if the dead returned, but weren’t immediately violent. How would we handle loss if those we’ve lost are staring us right in the eye?

Renate Reinsve appears in Handling the Undead by Thea Hvinstendahl, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Pål Ulvik Rokseth.

Each of the performances is great, with the loss of a lover, a mother, and a young child all providing plenty of ammunition for these actors. The idea of seeing someone you love devoid of all that made them who they are, is haunting. But it’s also the main focus of the film, which means it’s a tad light on narrative. Most of what is said could have been done in a 15-minute short film versus the nearly 100-minute feature we receive. I love simplified films but this one may just be lacking in anything outside of its central concept.

When losing a loved one, the prominent thought is “I would do anything to get them back?” Handling the Undead asks the very tough question of: “If you had them back, what would that actually mean?” Because while they may physically be there, everything that made that person who they are, is gone. Watching the different families learn this and come to this conclusion on their own results in plenty of self-reflection. Though, its more grounded approach conflicts with the more stereotypical conclusion to the story.

Renate Reinsve appears in Handling the Undead by Thea Hvinstendahl, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Pål Ulvik Rokseth.

Handling the Undead is very deliberate with its pacing. These long shots, accompanied by an intense sound design or beautiful violin, really help to further establish the atmosphere. Every frame is asking the viewer to sit and contemplate, whether it’s those made by the characters or the decisions you would make in their shoes. I can’t deny that the film is very slow, sometimes to the point of frustration. As much as the filmmakers want us to sit and stew on certain moments, the momentum of the film suffers because of it.

Zombies are often seen as these shambling creatures, animalistic in their instincts. They immediately enter villain mode and are easy antagonists. Handling the Undead treats them as an unknown force without a clear sense of direction. This both works for the intrigue, but raises even more questions with its third act. I really appreciated the filmmaking talent on display, I just question whether the narrative was strong enough to warrant a feature film.


About the Author

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Tyler Nichols is a horror fanatic who resides in Michigan and is always on the hunt for the next great film. When not scouring the internet for movie news, he is usually off watching something dark, writing nonsensical musings, or playing in some fantastical video game world. While horror takes up most of his time, he still makes time for films of all types, with a certain affinity for the strange and unusual. He’s also an expert on all things Comic Book Cinema. In addition to reviews and interviews here on JoBlo.com, Tyler also helps with JoBlo Horror Originals where he’s constantly trying to convince viewers to give lesser-known horror films a chance.