'Handling the Undead' — Nordic zombies, oh my!

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Monday May 20, 2024
Share this Post:
Renate Reinsve in 'Handling the Undead' (photo: Neon)
Renate Reinsve in 'Handling the Undead' (photo: Neon)

In the same way that Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson's 2003 movie adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist novel "Let the Right One In," wasn't your average vampire movie, Thea Hvistendahl's "Handling the Undead" (Neon), also based on a Lindqvist book, isn't your run of the mill zombie flick.

Focusing on three families, the Oslo-set "Handling the Undead" begins with Mahler (Bjørn Sundquist), bringing his daughter Anna (Renate Reinsve) something to eat. Anna, who works in food prep at a hospital, hasn't had much of an appetite since the recent death of her young son Elias.

Next in the story is elderly lesbian couple Tora (Bente Børsum) and Elisabet (Olga Damani). Tora is the lone mourner at Elisabet's funeral. Nordic in her public presentation, Tora waits until she gets home to fall apart and grieve the loss of her partner.

Easily the most animated family in the movie is the one with father Daniel (Anders Danielsen Lie), mother Eva (Bahar Pars), sullen teen daughter Flora (Inesa Dauksta), and younger son Kian (Kian Hansen). But their visible happiness is shattered when Eva dies on the operating table after being involved in a deadly car accident.

Following a sudden and brief summer power outage, which also somehow impacts car alarms, something bizarre occurs. While in the hospital room where Eva's corpse is being kept, Daniel can see that she is suddenly alive again.

Asleep in her bed, Tora is awakened by a noise from the kitchen. When she looks for the source, Tora discovers that Elisabet is there, alive and staring into the refrigerator.

Unlike the others, Mahler takes matters into his own hands, and digs up Elias's corpse. He brings him back to the apartment and awaits Anna's return from work.

Initially, these newly reanimated corpses don't behave in ways we've come to expect zombies to act as depicted in recent movies and TV series. There is a Bergman-esque quality to all the silent staring done by the characters. Some of it can be attributed to the disbelief the living are experiencing in the presence of their deceased loved ones having returned to them.

Also, it's a long (and somewhat tedious) way to build up to the horrors that come, including the horrific killing of a pet bunny, the arrival of a more aggressive zombie, and a surprisingly brutal act committed by a seemingly docile character. It takes nearly an hour and 20 minutes for the undead to show their true colors (or lack thereof).

While they don't have any scenes together, "Handling the Undead" reunites Reinsve and Lie, who appeared together in 2021's "The Worst Person in the World." "Handling the Undead" is a world away from that movie and might not be to the liking of zombie movie fans who have different expectations when it comes to that genre. Rating: B-


Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife.

Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!