Netflix’s Valley of the Dead aka Malnazidos is a Spanish zombie actioner set during the Spanish Civil War in 1938. It follows a group of Francoist soldiers who are forced to work with a party of Republicans to fend off hordes of zombies.
It is adapted from the novel ‘Noche de difuntos del 38 (Night of the dead of 38)’ by Manuel Martín Ferreras.
Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers
Set in 1938 Spain during the Civil War, Valley of the Dead follows a corporate lawyer Jan Lozano (Miki Esparbé) who is sent to deliver a secret message to a Colonel across no man’s land alongside a young soldier, Private Decruz (Manel Llunell).
The two belong to the Francoist side of the war but are apprehended by a troop of Republicans on the way. Their party is made up of the Sargent (Luis Callejo), Priest Killer (Aura Garrdio), Match (Alvaro Cervantes), Jaime (Dafnis Balduz), Brodsky (Sergio Torrico), The American (Ken Appledorn) and Carlos (Oriol Ramis).
They are initially taken hostage but are forced to work together with their enemies when the valley is overrun by dead cannibalistic monsters. Three more Francoists — Sister Flor (María Botto), Jurel (Jesús Carroza) and Rafir (Mouad Ghazouan) —join the troop.
Eventually the group of misfits discovers that the undead are the result of a dangerous Nazi experiment and they are right in the middle of it. As some of the cast starts falling victim to these savage beasts, the survivors rush to figure out the truth behind the experiment in hopes of finding an antidote.
Miki Esparbé is the outright alpha is of the group. His character is brash and jokey but can get serious when the situation demands. He does well to swing between the two sides of his personality and doesn’t make it look unnatural.
Manel Llunell as Decruz is the comedic relief as well as the soul of this film. His innocence and occasional dumbness makes him a very lovable character who receives a fitting end despite being considered the weak one.
Another standout performance in the film is by Aura Garrdio who plays Priest Killer. She is one of the only two female characters in Valley of the Dead and justifies it. Her screen presence is brilliant and she does an amazing job playing the savage assassin who has a troubled past and a hidden soft side.
Furthermore, what this film does brilliantly is flesh out all of its characters just enough to make them interesting. The remainder of the cast is brilliant as well and barely puts a foot wrong.
The premise is an exciting one. Blending a war with zombie experiments as biological warfare is not very common. The film also does well to avoid giving time to a lot of exposition. The undead are there as result of an experiment and that’s all the audience needs to know. Through this, it avoids a lot of tropes that plague movies and shows of the genre.
Directors Javier Ruiz Caldera and Alberto de Toro wisely do not take the narrative too seriously, making Valley of the Dead a breezy yet thrilling experience. The tone is quite light and comedic which does it a favour as the narrative does not become boring at any point of time.
Unlike most films with an expansive star cast, Valley of the Dead does well to allow all of its characters to shine. Positive or negative, everyone has a part to play and are not reduced to the background in any way.
The action sequences, mixed with stellar visual effects, are fun to get through. The film is pacey for its 1 hour 40 minute runtime and manages to be entertaining for the most part.
Owing to its light hearted tone however, Valley of the Dead does suffer a bit as the sense of urgency is never high enough. Even as some of the main characters perish, you don’t really feel empathy towards them (except perhaps for Decruz).
The ending is quite unnecessarily drawn out and doesn’t do justice to the premise. You’re left with an unnecessary tease for a potential sequel and no resolution to the solution whatsoever. The audience learns about the situation as the cast does but in the end, the conclusion to that information is missing.
The starting and the middle section of the film builds up some great hype mixed with a lot of action that does not pay off.
Whether you’re a fan of zombie thrillers or not, Valley of the Dead has enough content for everyone. You may finish it with a sense of wanting more but you’ll enjoy it nonetheless.