Survival of the Dead (2009)
Reviewed by Matt Blazi
Starring Devon Bostick, Alan Van Sprang, Kathleen Munroe, Kenneth Welsh
Directed by George A. Romero
George A. Romero returned to zombies in 2005 with Land of the Dead, and it was his biggest budget film to date. It was to be his magnum zombie opus. Two years later he branches out and delivers Diary of the Dead. The first-person perspective and rebooting of the franchise were received with lukewarm fanfare. It seems that no matter what George A. Romero does movie-wise this decade, fans are going to be split 50/50. Since LOTD Romero has been under a microscope; there are those who say Romero hasn’t missed a step, and then there are those that say he should give up making movies.
This year Romero delivers his sixth entry into his Dead series with Survival of the Dead. The film follows a small band of National Guard soldiers looking for a safe haven to ride out the storm of the undead. Their travels take them to Plum Island, where they walk right into the middle of an old fashioned family feud. On one side you have the Muldoons, who believe the dead should be saved in hopes of being “cured.” The other side has the O’Flynn family, who think that once you’re dead, you’re dead. They are embroiled in a long-standing feud of who is right and who is wrong with neither willing to budge, and the Guardsmen find themselves right in the middle.
Alan Van Sprang plays “Sarge” Crockett, the leader of the band of soldiers trying to survive the zombie uprising. This is a continuation of Sprang’s Diary of the Dead character, something we’ve seen Romero utilize only once before when Tom Savini’s Machete Zombie from Dawn appeared briefly in Land.
Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, Sarge becomes more then just a one-dimensional character as the film progresses. Kenneth Welsh plays patriarch Patrick O’Flynn, hellbent on cleansing Plum Island of the undead … and Muldoons if necessary. Richard Fitzpatrick portrays Seamus Muldoon, who thinks that death is not the end, but just another stage in life to honor family. Kathleen Munroe rounds out the main cast as Janet O’Flynn, seemingly the only person on Plum Island that is stopping both families from destroying themselves.
From start to finish Survival is a 92-minute thrill ride. Romero has given us a nice balance of zombies, action, black comedy, and scares. It’s Land of the Dead stripped down to the bare necessities – zombies and a compelling story of human survival. There’s no fancy camera work, but the CGI is well integrated and well placed. Romero has gone back to basics with Survival. We have zombies within the first two minutes all the way up to the last scene of the film. Unlike in Diary, the deadheads (as they are referenced here) are consistently present and keep our characters on their toes. One of the aspects missing from Diary that George has brought back is the featured zombie. We have Kathleen Munroe playing a dual role as Jan and Janet O’Flynn, twin sisters, one of whom has succumbed to the zombie plague.
George also hasn’t forgotten that zombies can be killed by not just weapons but also everyday objects. It seems in every film there is at least one zombie kill that stands out above the rest. In Day we had the shovel splitting a zombie head in half. Land had the zombie priest’s head being shot through his chest while hanging by a tendon. And who could forget the sickle through Samuel’s forehead in Diary as well as the defibrillator to the head gag? Survival also has its fair share of unique kills. Everything from fire extinguishers to pitchforks add to the dark humor portion of the film.
The “in your face” commentary of Diary has been a point of contention for many fans, but rest assured Survival’s message is there but presented in a way that does not hinder the story. Tribalism is the main theme of this film, and it is presented such that the viewer does not get pulled out of the experience and can remain engaged. Who and what started this feud is alluded to, but at this juncture it’s a moot point as it has already gone to the next level. Should the dead be put down permanently, or should they be “saved” in hopes of a cure or to honor them by letting them “live?” But in this new world do old differences matter? The world we know has ended, and now it is time to adapt or die, and some people just can’t seem to let go of old ideals. Is O’Flynn right about putting down every resurrected body? Or does Muldoon have it right about respecting our recently dead and now undead family members and letting them survive? Do we “teach” them to eat things other then humans or how to perform everyday mundane activities? Does any of this really matter when resources and supplies start dwindling and the zombies still want to eat us? George raises these questions without asking them directly to the audience, showing he has regained a balance of story vs. message in Survival.
If Land of the Dead is Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings, trimmings, and variety and Diary of the Dead is that recipe your mom surprises you with that you loved but your sibling hated, then Survival of the Dead should be your favorite recipe jazzed up with some new parts that still keeps that same flavor and leaves your palette wanting more.
4 out of 5
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