Valley of the Dead Review

Valley of the Dead is now streaming on Netflix.

I’ve seen zombies tear through World War II (Overlord), interrupt the American Civil War (Exit Humanity), and now I’ve seen them invade the Spanish Civil War thanks to Alberto de Toro and Javier Ruiz Caldera’s Valley of the Dead. There’s no connection to Zack Snyder’s ongoing Army of the Dead franchise; Rather, Netflix’s import draws influence from John Carpenter’s horror catalog, according to its filmmakers. Another maniac plays god, reanimates corps, and threatens humanity with an undead apocalypse like we’ve seen over and over, except this time there’s a European cultural context to liven one more by-the-books zombie thriller.

Jan Lozano (Miki Esparbé), Captain of the Fifth Brigade, is taken captive by the opposition. He’s given a chance to redeem himself and prove loyalty if he accepts a suicide mission into enemy territory with his skittish young driver Decruz (Manel Llunell). Jan doesn’t waste an opportunity and finds himself a delivery man, caught between Nationalists and Republicans. Still, this is a zombie flick, so you’re correct to presume his objective is compromised when Nazi experimentation unleashes walkers onto battlefields — which becomes even more complicated when Jan is taken captive by adversarial rebels who don’t trust the situational turncoat.

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It’s not hard to map where Valley of the Dead is headed from scene to scene, which is an unfortunate flaw. Directors de Toro and Caldera seek inspiration from a horror maestro in Carpenter, who’s not known for his zombie contributions (which shows). If you’ve seen anything by George A. Romero, or any of the infinite Romero copycats, then you’ll be two steps ahead whenever Valley of the Dead advances its story. Jan must convince his captors that fighting together is their only means of survival, the group learns about zombie infections mid-fight, and not everyone can live until the end credits. Screenwriters Jaime Marques and Cristian Conti adapt Manuel Martín’s novel Noche de Difuntos del 38 like it’s just another reboot of zombie mythologies, trudging in footsteps stamped smooth by countless filmmakers prior.

That said, Valley of the Dead is still a competent retelling of zombie theories by using the undead as biological Nazi warfare. Overlord is the far nastier, more epic Nazi zombie creation, but de Toro and Caldera are not out of their depth as horror directors. By adhering to tropes that march in line and never break rank, Valley of the Dead delivers on basic wartime horror promises. Action sequences pit zeds against bickering platoon soldiers with conflicting ideals, dramatic moment sacrifice squad members for the good of on-camera martyrdom, and hordes of shambling monsters munch flesh. Better yet, Valley of the Dead bolsters its aesthetic period through fortified barbed-wire bases and shabbily coated costuming versus lesser invested military zombie flicks like 2008’s abysmal Day of the Dead remake featuring Nick Cannon.

If this review doesn’t sound overwhelmingly excitable, you’re correct — but that doesn’t diminish descriptors like “capable,” “sturdy,” and “approvable.” Valley of the Dead won’t crack anyone’s list of favorite zombie flicks, but it’s still serviceable and made more interesting by its Spanish Civil War surroundings. Commentary exists as demolition experts and sharpshooters settle their faction differences by realizing the bloodshed that’s stained their country now means nothing as zombies become a common enemy. Undead sieges on train station depots show Republicans and Nationalists praying to the same god for survival, as clouds of red mist signify ammunition entering rotten walker skills for a kill shot (Nazis are still bad, duh). Satirical action-hero partnership dynamics form as scripting belittles the arguments between Spain’s divided people, albeit without that much horror-focused gore beyond those vibrantly red clouds of headshot spray.

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