Survival of the Dead - Written and directed by George Romero, starring Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, and Kathleen Munroe - Rated R (Available on Amazon On Demand)
Survival of the Dead is the latest zombie movie from the master himself, George Romero. Is it a masterful work, though? Unfortunately, no. Don't get me wrong, no one will ever top Romero. His original Dead trilogy will always be the gold standard. (For the record, I truly enjoyed Land of the Dead as well.) Then Diary of the Dead came out. It had some good ideas, but the man who brought Tom Savini into the movie world went with computer graphics. I couldn't believe it. I saw a blood splatter and it consisted of megabytes rather than corn syrup and red dye. That was my main problem with that film, but I had another: I felt that Romero had lost his ambition.
Look back to Day of the Dead (my personal favorite), the zombie Bub shows some kind of thought process and even wields a gun. Flash forward to his next film, Land, in which zombies show even more thought...they're borderline self-aware and it looked like Romero was heading towards a zombie revolution, in which the zombies were the stars and the world was devoid of regular humans. Is that a film I want to see? Not necessarily, but I think I'd take that over these last two efforts.
In Survival of the Dead, I feel that Romero is getting closer to his roots, but he's still missing something. He returns to the interesting experiments that were going on in Day, but he doesn't go all the way with it. And he's not shying away from the CG, though this film does look much better than Diary. Enough of this, though, how about a proper synopsis?
Survival is about an island off the coast of Delaware that is controlled by two warring Irish families. One man believes that a cure is possible; another thinks that all zombies should be wiped out. When I first saw the preview for this film I was very excited. It seemed to be a focused story with some possibly interesting plot points..."it seemed." The film gives us the setup on the island, but then it follows a renegade army crew (featured in Romero's last film, which makes this the closest thing to a sequel in the Dead series, which rubbed me the wrong way) as they eventually run across the exiled zombie killing fanatic from the island.
I was hoping that the film would take place entirely on the island. You had an interesting warring family plot set in a zombie world. But Romero spends too much time with the military types. I've seen his military types, I don't want a repeat. When the zombie killing fanatic (played with equal parts insanity and sincerity by Kenneth Walsh) is exiled from the island, the film is exiled as well. I wanted the entire film to take place on that island, where the true conflict existed. Instead, we're treated to a lengthy setup of the military types crossing paths with the fanatic and they finally (I don't think it's a SPOILER but just in case...) go back to the island. The trouble with that is the bulk of the film is that return journey that the audience sees coming a mile away.
Well, while the fanatic was gone, things went bad. People who weren't zombies before are zombies now and the non-zombie killing leader has turned into quite the zombie murderer. What I really wanted to see was how that all happened. What changed on the island? I don't know, but I wish I did. Do we, the audience, really need another zombie movie in which military types take out zombies by the dozens? We've seen it before and I expected more from Romero.
That's not to say the man has lost his knack for an inventive zombie kill. You still get some very ridiculous, and hilarious, death scenes. It's just that they aren't nearly as impressive when they are done digitally. If he did a fire extinguisher death scene (to spoil just one inventive kill) twenty years ago, there would've been an intricate practical effect to achieve it. Now, it's a click away and it turns from goofy-funny to goofy-stupid. Aside from a few weak moments like that, though, the CG is improved from Romero's last effort. But I still long for the corn syrup days.
Is Survival of the Dead a bad zombie movie, though? No, I don't think Romero can make a bad zombie film. Can he make a mediocre zombie film? Oh yeah. This may be a step in the right direction, evolution-wise, though. He does attempt to go back to experimentation (this time it's about trying to get zombies to eat non-human flesh) and it's interesting, but it isn't the focus of the movie. Romero needs to realize that the gore should be the pretty packaging (if practical), but the ideas of a good zombie film should be the focus. The ideas should be thought provoking. Give me corn syrup, sure, but more importantly, give me something to think about.