‘Handling the Undead’ (2024) Review: The Beating Heart of the Living Dead

Nuha Hassan
3 min readJun 11, 2024

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Renate Reinsve as Anna. Image courtesy of NEON.

Thea Hvistendahl’s Handling the Undead is a reinvention of zombie movies. Instead of the past-faced storyline and action scenes, the plot is quiet and sombre with an emotional element that roots for peace and harmony. The central themes of this subtle zombie movie are grief and loss, as three families deal with the reappearance of their deceased loved ones. It’s a delicate drama that throws the family into a different life by understanding the meaning of hope in a confusing time.

Set in Oslo, on a hot summer’s day, three families deal with losing their loved ones. A single mother, Anna, (Renate Reinsve, The Worst Person in the World) recently lost her son and has fallen into a deep depression. Her father, Mahler, (Bjørn Sundquist) visits her grandson’s grave to pay his respects. The second family: Tora (Bente Børsum) prepares for her partner, Elisabet’s (Olga Damani), funeral. In the household of David (Anders Danielsen Lie) and his partner, Eva (Bahar Pars), tragedy strikes when Eva dies in a car accident.

Unnatural signs disrupt nature’s flow, the lights flicker, the radio becomes static, and birds act strange. When the power goes out, the dead return, too. Mahler brings his grandson back to the house for Anne to heal from her depression, Tora finds Elisabet in her home, and David discovers Eva has regained consciousness. No one can explain this strange phenomenon but the three families deal with this differently. While some are in shock, others turn to selfish and desperate means to continue the illusion of happiness, but it leads to dangerous places that they can’t control.

Bahar Pars as Eva. Image courtesy of NEON.

Handling the Undead isn’t like the other zombie movies. The dead aren’t chasing humans rather it’s the other way around. It’s not even a game of cat and mouse, but humans seek the comfort of their dearly departed for closure or to fill the gaps in their lives. While human families try to figure out the cause of this phenomenon, the corpses have to return to humanity as their skin is rotting and unable to grasp human-like activities. Everything unfolds in a slow, tedious manner.

Even though Handling the Undead might be a slow burn, the drama is the one that stands out. The emotional storytelling has a stronger and more purposeful pull that adds a layer of grief and loss. While the humans want the undead corpses to return to ‘normal,’ it is far from the truth. Their dead loved ones are just shadows waiting for the inevitable, or something more dangerous that destroys the family structure. This is what makes the horror factor so appealing. It slowly creeps into their lives to show the devastating and horrifying reality of grief that has never been seen before in zombie movies.

For now, Hvistendahl’s Handling the Undead is a revival of the zombie genre. The Scandinavian drama is a one-of-a-kind film that brings a spellbinding and mesmerising story of a never-ending nightmare. But the narrative is vastly deeper than the beating heart and the living soul of the dead. It confronts the supernatural elements in a slow-burn and chilling story about nature that people might not truly understand.

Here are some reading materials to learn about the genocide, ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation in Palestine:

Decolonise Palestine

Books about Palestine on Verso Books

Books about Palestine on Haymarket Books

The Free Palestine Library

More reading materials on Palestine

Operation Olive Branch is another useful resource to help families evacuate to Egypt and buy medicine and food by donating directly to their GoFundMe links.

You can also join the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, a Palestinian-led movement as a form of resistance to Israeli occupation:

Read about Readers for Accountability on their website.

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