Renate Reinsve appears in Handling the Undead by Thea Hvinstendahl, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival | Agents of Fandom

Sundance 2024: ‘Handling the Undead’ Review – A Sluggish, Lifeless Meditation on Death

Great performances aren’t quite enough to raise Thea Hvistendhl’s debut from the dead.

Zombie movies are usually amped up with violence, comedy, and, well, plenty of zombies. Handling the Undead, a Norweigan zombie flick that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is exactly the opposite of that. The film, based on the book of the same name by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, meditates on its deeply serious commentary of grief, loss, and the passing of time. It’s a slow burn that’s as stubborn as most zombies are in its refusal to follow prevailing zombie movie tropes.

Renate Reinsve, of Worst Person in the World (one of the greatest films of the 2020s) fame, plays Anna, a rather ordinary Oslo citizen. Also of Worst Person in the World fame is Anders Danielsen Lie, who plays a man by the name of David, another ordinary citizen of Oslo. The two characters, joined by a third, Tora, played by Bente Børsum, have no connection other than that of recently having lost a loved one.

The three separated lives are brought to live the shared experience of caring for a zombie-esque version of a deceased relative. After a mysterious power surge in their quaint town, their beloved family members are reawakened from the dead — no explanation, no overt mission, no details.

‘Handling the Undead’s Pace Is Slower Than a Zombie

Renate Reinsve places her knees tight to her chest and rests her head on them as she struggles to come to grips with her deceased child being reawakened in Handling the Undead Sundance Film Festival 2024 I Agents of Fandom
Renate Reinsve struggles to come to grips with her deceased child being reawakened in Handling the Undead. Image Credit: Neon.

As Anna returns home from work after the power surge, she finds her sorrowful father caring after a malnourished, greyed-out version of her son who has previously died. Her father has bathed the young boy and tucked him into his bed that has yet to be disassembled. The shock on Anna’s face is that of genuine horror and discomfort — an emotion that Renate Reinsve is so accurate in portraying.

David is called by the hospital with news that his wife, Eva (Bahar Pars), who was pronounced dead from a car crash that very morning, has suddenly started breathing again. Tora is greeted by her partner Elisabet (Olga Damani) suddenly searching for food in her fridge. The ominous nature of the event is palpable; how would you react to seeing a dead loved one reanimated and standing in front of you?

The film mediates on just that. The main characters are all of different ages and societal circumstances, young and old, single and with a family. There is a constant foreboding nature that haunts every calculated frame and every concise sound. The idea of dissecting how different people would react to getting to see their loved one again is fascinating in concept yet laborious in process. With a pace akin to that of a lethargic zombie, very few things happen. Even fewer details surrounding the reawakening of the dead are shared which successfully distances the viewer from the story — something the film can’t quite afford to do given its already subdued energy and simplified story.

In writer/director Thea Hvistendhl‘s debut, the idea of the inherent frightful nature of grief isn’t quite enough to raise this film from the dead. To no fault of Reinsve or Lie — who are emotionally affecting in the extremely little they are given to do — the movie ultimately fails to become a piercing commentary of the grim reality of the horrific juxtaposition between life and death.

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'Handling the Undead' Sundance Film Festival 2024 Review

'Handling the Undead' Sundance Film Festival 2024 Review
1.5 5 0 1
1.5 rating
Total Score

The Good

  • Renate Reinsve can do no wrong — this movie included!

The Bad

  • A sluggishly subdued pace kills all hope of this movie feeling alive.
  • Lack of dialogue and details hinder any deeper meditation on life or death.
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