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May 2, 2010

Survival of the Dead

2009, Dir. by George A. Romero.

Remember the days, around the beginning of the millennium, when all of us horror fans were pretty excited about the return of zombies at the hands of George A. Romero? At the time, Sir George was connected to the Resident Evil franchise, but that didn't pan out and instead zombies made their big comeback with Paul Thomas Anderson and Milla Jovovich leading the way. That didn't stop the Romero train, and after successes like Shaun of the Dead and the remake of his own Dawn of the Dead, Romero scored studio backing and a cast of Hollywood actors for his fourth deadhead film, Land of the Dead.

At the time, I remember finding Land entertaining, yet entirely flawed. In the wake of Romero's two follow-up zombie films, including Survival of the Dead, which is currently making its long awaited debut in the States, that film looks like a long lost treasure.

I say that while looking at my recent viewing of Survival of the Dead and wondering what exactly the point Romero is still trying to add to his story is. His original Dead trilogy, starting with 1968's Night of the Living Dead and ending with 1985's Day of the Dead, was a well-disguised cover for commentary on the human desire to destroy their species from within, focusing on racial, commercial, and sexual differences - among others - that prevailed despite the chaos that is devouring the world. In Land, Romero shifted his focus to embrace that human disconnect and focus on the creatures who are trying to survive their predicament. Poor response to that film, critically and financially, led to the independent production of 2007's Diary of the Dead and now, Survival of the Dead, in which Romero flounders to return to the ideas that established his legend.

Survival picks up on a tangent from Diary, following both the residents of a small farming island off the East Coast and a military crew of scavengers led by a Colonel (Alan Van Sprang, who also appeared in a different role in Land of the Dead) who led a hijacking of Diary's main characters. Now, armed with a small crew of diverse soldiers (basically a token back-up man, a token sex-obsessed ethnic character, and a token lesbian), the Colonel joins up with an exiled patriarch of the island retreat and heads across the sea to the island, where they find danger from both the living and the dead.

There are some interesting developments when considering the new style of living on said island, particularly in regard to their ability to confine and reuse the dead. But despite this, the characters quickly slip into the same old zombie flick routines. Old grudges are still more concerning than the threat of being eaten by a corpse, and we're bombarded with the same "humanity can't save itself" messages we've been getting from these films for years. The final shot of the film is a strong one, bridging the gap between human and zombie lore, but as an attempt to make the film relevant it's too little, too late.

Though it's nice to see Romero back to basics, as he was when he was at his peak, there's just not a lot in Survival of the Dead that carries weight. As someone who's revisited Romero's places of the Dead more times than is necessary, I wonder if there's anything left that can be said regarding these "Dead". I've wanted to see more from Romero's world - for example a cross-country, post-apocalyptic road-movie like the one alluded to at the end of Land of the Dead sounds fun - but at this point it doesn't seem possible with the dwindling resources at Romero's disposal.

In this case, the film is what the title says. Romero's dead will survive, primarily because he still understands the subgenre he invented better than a large majority of those who've tried to follow him into the zombie craze. But while these Dead do survive, there's little more than a few half-cocked ideas added to their story. I still like seeing George add to his story, but at this point it's hard to find a reason to feel that way. Survival of the Dead just manages to exist in the world Romero's created, and doesn't hold any power that can rejuvenate a race of creature features that have been feasting on the mindless horror fan for most of the last 10 years.

1 comment:

R.D. Penning said...

Now do you agree with my review? haha