Survival of the Dead (2009)
Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Starring Devon Bostick, Kathleen Munroe, Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Richard Fitzpatrick
Directed by George A. Romero
I have purposely stayed away from everything having to do with this film so I could give an unbiased review. After all, I'm a big fan of Romero and have loved just about everything he's done. Hell, I even loved Diary of the Dead (which makes me somewhat unpopular at geek gatherings) and wasn't terribly happy with Land of the Dead (which also gets me barred from geek gatherings).
Romero's latest zombie film, Survival of the Dead, brings to prominence one of the minor characters from Diary of the Dead, military-man-turned-raider "Nicotine" Crocket (Alan Van Sprang) and his merry crew of miscreants. Sort of. As with many of Romero's films, there are several plot lines that converge once things get going. The real main conflict of the story is a generations-old feud between two Irish families, the O'Flynns and the Muldoons, on a tiny island called Plum. While one side takes the opinion that the walking dead, and those infected by them, should be shot in the head and the island purged, leaving them in relative safety, the other believes that their dead-but-still-walking relatives can be taught to eat something other than humans and should be cared for as if they were still alive in hopes that a cure for zombism can be found. That's really all that can be said without giving away plot points.
Romero himself said that this film was meant to be fun ... for him and for us, and he delivered. Containing what he described as "Looney-Toons-type gags," the film takes the art of the over-the-top kill to new levels. From dynamite to crushings, fire extinguishers, and flares, zombies die with style and a sense of humor that may put off some of Romero's fans, but for me they worked. There are quite a few moments of over-the-top action that seem to be Romero having fun with his craft, and I'm willing to bet that most audiences will be more than willing to go along for the ride.
Which is not to say this movie is a comedy. While there are some truly funny moments, the seriousness of the characters' situations is never forgotten. There is something disturbing and moving about a society's unwillingness to let go of old anger and of the past to the point of chaining their dead relatives in their rooms and making them go about their everyday lives as if nothing had ever happened. Denial is a prevalent theme in this movie, as is human ignorance.
For those who watch Romero's zombie movies for the thrill of the kill, there are plenty of scenes to entertain. The film's "main kill" is as gory and visceral as anything Romero has ever done, not to mention quite effective. Combined with scenes of heads being peeled like overripe oranges and numerous splattering bites, the movie doesn't shy away from the horrifying demise.
Survival of the Dead succeeds where Land of the Dead fell down in that Romero left the ending open, didn't put a cap on it, and allowed us, the audience, to believe there might be more to the story. Without handing the audience a heavy-handed morality play about discrimination, Romero shows that human beings are their own worst enemy and that of any emotion, hate is among the strongest (and stupidest) on the list. The same could be said of pride among the characters as well.
Which is not to say the film is perfect. There are a couple of flaws that detract a little from the overall picture, most notably the main antagonists in the film's dialogue. For a couple of guys who hate each other, the two seem intent on telling each other just how much they hate each other, and why, every chance they get and in language that seems more suited to a stereotypical Irish melodrama than a zombie flick. However, it plays into Romero's statement that the characters are ridiculous in action and motivation to begin with, and it seems to fit in with the characters in general.
In a nutshell, what we have here is a basic Western. Warring families, outsiders, and an age-old conflict that has its roots in stupidity make up the lion's share of this story with zombies thrown into the mix as a complicating matter. Add in some extreme violence and wonderful performances from the lead actors, and we have a movie that is (arguably) one of the best in the series.
4 1/2 out of 5
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