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The yearning to reverse death is baked into human nature, a longing to defeat evil, to set things right, to conquer mortality. In “Handling the Undead,” that desire is the fruit of great love. Who hasn’t, upon losing someone, wished desperately for just one more chance to see them, hold them, tell them how much they mean?

“Handling the Undead” has an earnest and simple premise that sounds like enough for a whole thriller: One day, out of nowhere, with little explanation, the dead are reanimated en masse. The film is unconcerned with the global ramifications of this phenomenon; instead, its focus is on three groups of Oslo residents whose lives are upended by the event.

There is Mahler (Bjorn Sundquist) and his daughter, Anna (Renate Reinsve), a single mother whose young son died some time ago. The two of them, from the looks of it, have never recovered from the loss — Mahler weeps on his grandson’s grave, while Anna tries to bury her anguish in work. Meanwhile, Tora (Bente Borsum) grieves her partner, Elisabet (Olga Damani), who has died after their long life together. And David (an outstanding Anders Danielsen Lie), an aspiring comic, is shocked when his beloved wife, Eva (Bahar Pars), is killed in a car accident, barely knowing how to keep living with their two teenagers.

This is merely the beginning of the story. But what follows is simple, and the director Thea Hvistendahl wisely takes her time getting to any real action. Instead, with a slow-moving camera and plenty of filtered sunlight, she conjures a dreamlike state, the sense of hanging between planes of existence that tends to accompany those who grieve. There are times when the film veers too near the maudlin for comfort, but it always finds its way back to something spare and meaningful. What would you do, the story gently asks, if your fondest and most impossible wish was granted, and you realized it wasn’t at all what you’d hoped it would be? How far does real love go to maintain a connection with those whose time has come?

Hvistendahl wrote the screenplay with John Ajvide Lindqvist, the author of the novel on which the movie is based (as well as the quiet vampire story “Let The Right One In”). The drama borrows from zombie movies, but for something distinctly unzombielike. What’s under examination is the strange permeable barrier between life and death, and the way it appears to those who are left behind to deal with the fallout. In exploring it with a hint of mysticism, “Handling the Undead” joins a rich variety of entertainment, like “Fringe,” “The Leftovers,” “The Good Place” and “Six Feet Under.”

It’s also a foundational plank in the “Avengers” films, which take as one of their major plot points the notion of what’s called “the snap.” A villain manages to exterminate half of earth’s population, only to have the process reversed five years later. Outside of a few TV show plotlines, the Marvel Cinematic Universe — being big-budget Hollywood entertainment — has never really managed to reckon in a satisfying way with the chaos of a world where the dead are made alive again. Instead, the logistical nightmares and odd inevitable grief of the reversal (what if you remarried, and then your spouse suddenly returned?) are quickly dealt with in favor of defeating the next big bad.

“Handling the Undead” also eschews any of the practical questions, but with a more humanist intent: to lean single-mindedly into its characters’ emotions — and also its eerie mythical resonance. It’s a somber film, underplaying its potential for sentimentality. But it does have an oddly cheeky beginning. As the camera slowly moves through Mahler’s drab flat, we hear a choir singing in English. “God so loved the world, so loved the world,” they begin, in the British composer Bob Chilcott’s choral setting of John 3:16. Both verse and song end with the promise that whoever believes in God’s son, Jesus, “should not perish but have everlasting life, everlasting, everlasting life.”

The verse and its text are such a cultural touchstone that the oddly macabre implications can be lost. It’s meant to be somewhat metaphorical, referring to an eternity spent in the presence of God, but on the surface it’s something much weirder: life that never ceases, that simply goes on and on, forever and ever, without end.

There’s something very terrifying in that premise (just ask vampire movies), and that’s what “Handling the Undead” taps into. There’s an old truism that it’s death that gives life meaning, that mortality is what makes every moment count. But truisms become truisms because they are true, and when a life ends, it changes the people it once touched. It’s cruel and wrong to suggest that death is good — but it’s kind, at least, to recall what death can mean to the living.

Handling the Undead
Not rated. In Norwegian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.

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