George Romero’s Survival of the Dead continues the series he began in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, comprising the “original” three installments (Night, Dawn, Day) and his two recent revisits, Land of the Dead (2005) and Diary of the Dead (2007). Land’s Dennis Hopper/Asia Argento/John Leguizamo trifecta was an atypical name-casting ploy, and Survival returns to the netherworld of unknown faces and bargain basement acting. This was rarely a problem when the films had wit and invention on their side, but a law of diminishing returns seems to be in effect.
Check out our review…
- Director/writer: George A. Romero
- Cast: Alan van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Richard Fitzpatrick, Devon Bostick, Athena Karkanis, Stefano DiMatteo, Joris Jarsky, Eric Woolfe
- Cinematography: Adam Swica
- Original music: Robert Carli
At the culmination of an ongoing family feud, old man Patrick O’Flynn is booted off the idyllic Plum Island, located on the coast of Delaware for wanting to dispose of the recently mutated zombies. His nemesis patriarch, Seamus Muldoon wants to keep them alive – the importance of family and all that – in the vague hopes that someone will someday find a cure, or that they will learn to eat something other than human flesh. Meanwhile on the mainland, as the zombies spread and lawlessness increases a small group of soldiers make their way to the supposed haven on the island picking up O’Flynn on the way and prompting the ancient antagonisms to come to a head.
- The Action: This is the part to describe what’s good about the film. It’s not easy. There’s some zombie-dispatching fun with a fire extinguisher and a flare gun, and a nicely impressionistic (but brief) underwater sequence, and that’s about it.
- The Scenery: Two shots of a forest. For some reason whenever anyone steps out of the diner on Plum, they are immediately deep in an autumnal forest. It suggests a nice eerie fairytale tone that is entirely absent throughout the rest of the film.
- Not Enough Zombies: They get to menace a bit in the first half, though they’re rarely scary or convincingly threatening. When the action moves to Plum, they’re locked up and almost entirely reduced by the finale to the most ignoble of roles, the plot device.
- Too Many People: Or rather, too much time wasted with too little effort on the characters’ stories. Survival is the worst offender yet. O’Flynn is meant to be rascally Irish but is merely venal and unlikable; Muldoon is two-dimensional backwoods insane; Sarge Crockett is all sketched out hard man tics, trading second-hand tough guy talk with an improbably self-possessed emo kid. There’s an irrelevant lesbian soldier (feminine, but still called “Tomboy”, and first seen masturbating.); a pointless surprise twin twist; and an armoured car full of money that is almost tangential.
- Plot: There’s too much of it, too sketchily drawn, and making not enough sense. Why, for example, is Muldoon waiting for a zombie girl to eat the horse of which she was clearly quite fond of and how can we forget that she still gallops full-tilt across the island, demonstrating an improbable – and ignored – leap in zombie motor skills?
- Subtext: The first three films are renowned for the seamless and fundamental socio-political subtexts (race, consumerism, the military) which became a little flabbier in Land and Diary (capitalism, media saturation). The target here, so says Romero, is war but the implications go no further than “fighting is bad” with the military personnel actually being the heroes.
One of the supporting players has his “sympathetic” character drawn in such broad brush strokes that we couldn’t care less when he’s torn in half by a crowd of zombies. Survival’s straight – and inferior – replay of the group gut-munching in Dawn makes it all the more emblematic of the tragic decline in Romero’s imaginative and cinematic powers.
Survival of the Dead is available on VOD, Amazon, VUDU, Xbox LIVE and PlayStation on April 30th and opens in theaters on May 28th.
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