Close this search box.

Handling the Undead review: Reinsve zombie drama

A woman stands holding a child in her hands with a boat behind her in shock in a still from the film Handling the Undead

Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie star in Thea Hvistendahl’s Handling the Undead, a methodical zombie drama that is well-made but emotionally hollow.

Director: Thea Hvistendahl
Genre: Horror, Drama
Run Time: 97′
Sundance Screening: June 7, 2024
US Release Date: June 7, 2024
UK Release Date: TBA
Where to Watch: in US theaters

Handling the Undead (Håndtering av Udøde) begins on a hot day in Oslo, with three families going through some form of loss. Anna (Renate Reinsve, Another End) and her father Mahler (Bjørn Sundquist) live not too far away from each other in tower blocks. Both are mourning the loss of Anna’s son Elias, her flat filled with toys and remnants of a life caught tragically short.

Meanwhile, the elderly Tora (Bente Børsum) has returned home after saying goodbye to her partner, Elisabet (Olga Damani). And a family – aspiring comedian David (Anders Danielsen Lie, The Worst Person in the World) and his children Kian (Kian Hansen) and Flora (Inesa Dauksta) – are forced to contend with the sudden death of their mother Eva (Bahar Pars).

Suddenly, an electrical power surge strikes the city resulting in migraines, constant radio static and a blackout. When the commotion dies down, something strange begins to occur. Mahler is the first to sense it when he hears a knocking sound underneath his grandson’s grave. The inexplicable has happened. The dead are alive again. As the authorities scramble to contain the situation, we see the reactions of the three families. David and his family wait for news with newfound hope, Tora takes care of her lover, and Anna and Mahler decide to hide Elias from the police by retreating to a cabin in the woods.

A woman has her hand on her mouth in shock in a still from the film Handling the Undead
Handling the Undead (Neon / 2024 Sundance Film Festival London)

Billed by its producers as a character driven horror/drama, Handling the Undead is slow and methodical in its approach to the zombie genre. That is to be expected with Swedish author and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist. The mind behind Let The Right One In and Border has adapted his 2005 novel, with director Thea Hvistendahl (who also co-wrote the script) making her feature narrative debut. The pair take this unnatural phenomenon and focus mainly on the impact on these three families, whose reactions to the return of their loved ones are so receptive for a reason. For them, this could be a second chance.

Yet this desperate hope blinds them to the fact that Elias, Elisabet and Eva are not the same people they knew. Silent, staring and practically comatose, the resurrected are at different stages of death and decay, as shown through the great makeup designs. Elias was buried for a while before he came back to life; Elisabet was at the funeral parlour; and Eva had just passed away. Even then, all three are linked by how they slowly reveal themselves as the soulless, rabid zombies typical to this genre.

Hvistendahl makes it immediately clear that this is a world surrounded by death, where characters haven’t yet reached the acceptance stage of grief. She and DP Pål Ulvik Rokseth opt for a look that aids both the wide net the film casts and its sombre tone. There is a tension that rumbles and reverberates through the film, from the dark shadowy hues and cacophony of sounds (where even the noises from a closing door are disconcertingly loud) to Peter Raeburn’s score and scenes that are long and drawn out. Rokseth also employs a sweeping camera pan of the city from above.

Handling the Undead Trailer (Neon)

Handling the Undead is certainly an eerie and bleak film, taking the macabre subject matter of the undead and highlighting the intrinsic grief and how hard it is to cope with loss. However, at a certain point, glaring problems mean the film never grabs you as it should. The careful and segmented pacing becomes noticeably repetitive, but only because there isn’t much else to Hvistendahl and Lindqvist’s story. It is trying to be forcefully emotive, but it feels unearned, since the plotlines are so separated from one another and there is no sharpness or depth to these characters. Furthermore, the ensemble cast does well going through the feelings of shock and overwhelming sadness, but they are not given much else to do. As a result, Handling the Undead is a zombie drama that is well-made but emotionally hollow.

Get it on Apple TV

Handling the Undead was screened at the Sundance Film Festival London, taking place on 6-9 June, 2024 at the Picturehouse Central in London. The film was released in select US theaters on June 7, 2024, after an exclusive premiere at the IFC Center in New York on May 31. Read all of our Sundance reviews!

Daddio Film Review: The Payoff of Vulnerability – Loud And Clear
Writer-director Christy Hall’s heartfelt directorial debut feture Daddio lets Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn’s charisma ride shotgun.
Thank you for reading us! If you’d like to help us continue to bring you our coverage of films and TV and keep the site completely free for everyone, please consider a donation.