Netflix’s Valley of the Dead (2022) Is Full of Good Ole’ Fashion Zombie Mayhem
Title: Valley of the Dead
First Non-Festival Release: March 11, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Alberto de Toro, Javier Ruiz Caldera
Writer: Jaime Marques, Cristian Conti, Manuel Martín
Runtime: 101 Minutes
Starring: Miki Esparbé, Aura Garrido, Luis Callejo
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
After disappointing his uncle one too many times, Jan (Miki Esparbé) is forced to go on a suicide mission into no man’s land to deliver an important message to his other uncle. Alongside him is Decruz (Manel Llunell), a seventeen-year-old deserter who was moments away from facing execution. Together, they will journey in order to restore their pride and instill faith that they are courageous enough to remain in the ranks of the army. Unfortunately, they get quickly captured by the Communist resistance after getting sealed into the area by German allies. If that wasn’t bad enough, they discover, along with their new captors, that they are not alone in the territory.
Period zombie comedy Valley of the Dead brings an onslaught of sharp humor and enjoyable undead violence.
A standard zombie war horror film, Valley of the Dead doesn’t feel the need to expand on zombie lore to have a good time. The common mechanics of evading the undead are true here. When zombies attack their bite will transform the victim and their only weakness is a bullet to the head. Not much else is needed to explain here, and that is part of its charm. Filled with clever one-liners and political jabs, Valley of the Dead spares no moment to give the audience a break either from the undead insanity or the comedy of the situation at hand. Even simple things like a character’s name or another’s strange personality quirk are used to their biggest potential to maximize the bit.
Valley of the Dead works best as an ensemble piece. The audience does not get a chance to get to know the characters as well as they would like. That said, what makes the film interesting is the dynamics that ebb and flow while the characters journey out of the valley. Alliances form across political lines, spirituality is found and lost, and bravery comes to light in different manners. The interactions between the unlikely comrades makes not only for great comedy but for some pleasant commentary on social relations.
While the political undertones are impossible to ignore in Valley of the Dead, the much more interesting ideas are mined in the exploration of its characters. Courage and bravery are touted as the most important traits someone can possess and every step of the way, Jan, as well as others, are tested on this. The sacrifices these characters make in the name of their ideologies is one thing, but it is altogether more profound when it eclipses that motivation to instead save the world. With their actions in the third act, the group knows that finding a cure is necessary to save not only themselves but others. When the possibilities of them successfully doing that diminish, their choices still lean into altruism.
By the time it ends, Valley of the Dead isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. It is a fun and even-paced zombie action comedy that focuses on making an enjoyable film first before it gets into the weeds of its point. It’s political themes and historical setting differentiate it enough from other undead adventures and its cast of colorful characters help maintain the audience’s good will. Its biggest fault is that it never strays too far from the conventions of its subgenre, but it matters little given how it provides a steady stream of enjoyable carnage.
It doesn’t do much different from the hundreds of zombie films in existence, but Valley of the Dead is a solid entry in the subgenre for those that prefer their zombie films without the frills. While its story isn’t particularly novel, it does give insight to interesting political and historical dynamics in Spain at the time of World War II, which makes it more engaging that it otherwise would be. Charming characters, solid performances, and a great sense of humor helps Valley of the Dead strike enough of a balance between its multiple genres to keep the audiences in good graces throughout its runtime. There is always more room for competent zombie horror films to be made and it is exciting to see Netflix give the latest new life for millions to see.
Overall Score? 6.5/10