Sunday, April 18, 2010

REVIEW: Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead
Director: George Romero
Year 2009

Survival of the Dead is a zombie/western brought to us by none other than the zombie godfather himself, George Romero. In this six installment of his dead series, we are presented with a group of men who inhabit an island where a war is brewing between the locals on how to deal with the recently deceased. Half of the community want to destroy the zombies, while the other half want to lock them up and wait for a cure. The side that says the only good zombie is a dead one, is led by a wily and extremely irish man by the name of Patrick O'Flynn, played by an entertaining as hell Kenneth Welsh. His character brings a lot of fun to this movie and I really enjoyed all the scenes where he was involved.

O'Flynn and his posse.

Our first clash between both sides happens when O'Flynn and his militia visit the house of a man you has recently lost his two children in an automobile accident. He keeps the children locked up in their room and O'Flynn demands that they destroy them before anyone gets bitten or worse. Of course nothing ever goes right when normal human beings argue about what to do about the zombie epidemic, which Romero has so gracefully displayed in all of his zombie films, so of course some bad shit proceeds to go down with a few innocents getting shot. We are then interrupted by the other warring faction on this island, the ones that believe a cure will be created if they just wait it out. Seamus Muldoon runs this group and he advises O'Flynn to stand down. O'Flynn does and is then banished from the island and community, never to return. This is where the movie officially begins and where we are presented with our connecting character from the previous film, Diary of the Dead.

The character is Sarge Crocket, nicknamed Nicotine, who was the leader of the rag tag bunch of soldiers that stopped the kids in the RV in Diary. In that movie he was kind of a prick, but with Survival we're given a more centered and selfless character that focuses on his more bad-ass qualities, like killing zombies in new and inventive ways. Alan Van Sprang plays Sarge, who is a soldier of fortune with a cool demeanor, that is until things don't go his way and he throws a wild hissy fit and starts breaking things. I really wouldn't put Diary of the Dead high on the list of the greatest zombie movies that were ever created and Sarge's character in that movie didn't really leave an impression on me, but in this film he delivers some memorable lines and a handful of entertaining kills.

That Sarge is one bad mutha.. shut your mouth!
I'm just talking about Crocket. Damn right!

Along with Sarge are a few soldiers that have decided to follow him in this zombie wasteland and a young teenager, who through a few interesting missteps, has stumbled upon an armored truck with enough cash to turn his life around. Well that is if money was worth a damn in this decayed world, but that's besides the point and one that the movie never really addresses. That idea of putting so much worth in this money, in a world where it couldn't by you shit, really doesn't bother me because the film never really centers you in a story that is dead serious. The days of Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead are long gone and in its place is a more slapstick and fun film that never takes itself too seriously. I for one prefer the old days of dark and foreboding stories set in the zombie apocalypse, but I quite enjoyed the silliness of Survival and just took it for what it was, a fun movie.

In a world full of zombies, money doesn't mean shit.

The thing that brings these two character groups together, is a video on the still working internet, that claims that their is an island that is free of zombies where people can start over, hosted by Patrick O'Flynn himself. He tells anyone watching that they can come to the marina and set sail for this new world. The group of soldiers at first don't buy into it, but eventually their curiosity gets the better of them and they decide to check it out. When they get there though, they find that it's a trap and they have to fight their way out of there, blowing up half the marina and taking a slew of zombies with them. They highjack a ferry and set sail for the famed island from the internet video, gaining a stowaway in the form of Patrick O'Flynn. For some reason, no one is really pissed at the guy for shooting at them, and I'm glad they brought him along because his character is both funny and entertaining.

Never trust O'Flynn. He's one tricky irish bastard.

I must say that this is one of the prettiest looking zombie films that Romero has ever produced. The look and feel of the visuals rival some of his most beloved classics, yet it is updated for a more modern cinematic feel. This was a very low budget film, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the visuals. Thankfully, the hand held camera style of Diary of the Dead is in fact dead in this film. Why he ever went that horrible fad of a route is beyond me, but here we are presented with a traditional and professional style of filming. Now I don't want you to get the impression that this film is on par with Romero's previous zombie outings. This film doesn't even come close to the brilliance of Night, Dawn, or Day, but in my opinion it lies somewhere between the Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead, with Diary being the lesser of his efforts.

What helps bring this film into its own category is the fact that there is so much comedy and fun injected into this story. This isn't my preference for a zombie film, but it's still entertaining and it gives us a new way to look at a Romero zombie film. If I had my way though, I would have loved to have this film delve deeper into the horror aspects of the zombie apocalypse like he had earlier with Night, Dawn, and Day. Still, this is an improved effort for Romero from his Diary of the Dead efforts, and being this is at the end of his illustrious career, I'm just glad to see new zombie films from him even if they can't be compared to his masterpieces.

A nice night for a ferry boat ride to the
island of the living dead. The name
this film should have had.

There is no shortage of interesting and innovative zombie kills in this film. We are given an unorthodox scene where Sarge shoots some decapitated zombie heads that are placed on stakes by some hicks in the forest. Another kill happens on the ferry where a fire extinguisher is set off in the mouth of a zombie, making his eyeballs shoot out of his mouth and then left to dangle like something out of a looney tunes cartoon. The CGI in that sequence is kind of rough and extremely amateurish, but those instances are few and far between. The only other CGI that really bothered me was the zombie thats head was on fire. It was just painfully fake looking and Romero chose to hold that shot for so long, that there really was no way of hiding the fact that it was done poorly. In my opinion, the only way to do effects is to go the practical route and Romero has done so well with this plan of attack for all of his classic films, that I wish he would just bring it back to basics and forget the CGI and all hindrances it bares.

Sarge being cool as hell, while a distracting
CGI flamed zombie head steals the show.

The setting of the island is ingenious and one that I wish a lot more horror films brought about in their production scouting. The location is absolutely stunning and it's brand new territory for a Romero zombie film, yet it's vaguely similar to his Night of the Living Dead roots, with its widespread country landscape and scattered farmhouses. The isolation that these landscapes serve is both peaceful and unsettling, when you scatter a few walking corpses across the horizon. There are some moments of the original Living Dead film, that gives us a familiar reference to the early days of the zombie outbreak seeing that this and the last film are set during the origins of the overall story arc. It's interesting to see other stories set in the same world and to be able to see them from different perspectives with a whole new group of people, but I always wondered what a continuation of Land of the Dead would have looked like and how far the world would have gone to shit. 

A beautiful shot of the group approaching the island.

As soon as the group lands on the island we are transported back in time and forget that this film is presented in the modern technological era. I think it suites the zombie outbreak just fine and I enjoyed the western feel of the warring families with a huge emphasis on the cowboy way. This film is definitely nothing like any of Romero's previous zombie films and that at least is a refreshing change from a director who used to tackle such diverse categories within the horror genre.

The characters are also fleshed out nicely and they don't leave a bad taste in your mouth like the ones from Diary of the Dead. I wouldn't for the life of me be able to tell you any of the characters names in that film. They were all a blur and boring as hell, that I never felt invested in their survival or demise. That's not the case in this film, for we're given some interesting characters with individual personalities that work for the world that they're in. Romero's characters were always a hight point for me in all of his films and this one stays true to form and follows that well developed formula of giving us something to care about.

The group as they arrive at O'Flynn's farm.

This film does have a strange combination of tones that it jumps back and forth to throughout the movie's time period. We are given dark moments where O'Flynn finds all of the dead bodies of destroyed zombies as they litter his marshlands outside of his home. The numbers of dead are astounding and it brings a serious note to the otherwise light fare. Then we are given moments of silliness when O'Flynn yells out "Pussy Foot!" at Sarge, with Sarge yelling back, "Hey I'm keeping up with you old man!" Only to have O'Flynn tell him that Pussy Foot is the name of the river that they're passing. It's cheesy, but hilarious conversations like that just creep up out of nowhere in this film so you really don't know what will happen next. It's very strange and in this strangeness, I feel, is an entertaining ride that you really haven't experienced before, at least not in a Romero film. I wonder what made him veer off into this direction. Could it be possible that all of the Shaun of the Dead style homages have now started to influence his own work?

A creepy shot of a zombified Jane O'Flynn.

Now admittedly, there aren't a lot of zombie moments in this film, but when they do occur you're sure to get that good old Romero feeling when they begin to creep onto the screen. We're given some pretty nice shots of groups of zombies as they lurch forward looking for humans to feast on. Like I said before, seeing these zombies as they slowly stumble across farmlands and open fields is a delight to witness and it's a sight we haven't seen since the original Night of the Living Dead and since Romero opted for a more urban setting for his later zombie outings.

Following to form, the zombies are let
loose during the finale. Won't we ever learn.

The gore is also heavy during the finale and we're given a few scenes that harken back to the body splitting scene of Captain Rhodes from Day of the Dead, but nothing that would rival that classic scene. Luckily all of these bloody moments are kept mostly CGI free and are crafted with a practical eye. You get the intestine pulling and the munching of human flesh all with the glorious human on human action that is centered at the heart of all of Romero's zombie films. He seems deemed to tell us the same story over and over about how fighting with each other always brings about our downfall and ultimately the demise of the human race. Even though this tale has been treaded many times before by George, I still enjoy witnessing it play out in all its gory detail.

Captain Rhodes would be proud of this death. Choke on it!

That theme of human rivalry and deception that Romero has thrown into everyone of his zombie films, has never been driven home with such authority then with Survival of the Dead. Using the family rivalry of the O'Flynn's and the Muldoon's, he showcases the results of endless feuding and senseless wars by topping it off with an all out zombie massacre as the two main characters, Patrick O'Flynn and Seamus Muldoon, battle on even when both of their lives are threatened by the oncoming zombie horde. We are even treated to an interesting shot at the very end of the movie, showing how human kind is doomed to continue this reoccurring role of waging war against its fellow man. It's a very poignant concept and one that you can relate to any war that is currently being fought. It's timeless in its execution for just as the characters in this film battle each other, so will human kind wage war, stuck in a viscous cycle.

The metaphor of civil war made in one simple image.

Survival of the Dead is not one of Romero's best zombie movies, but it's not his worst either. That title goes to Diary of the Dead. With Survival we're given a different angle of the zombie outbreak and a different tone to set it all in. Instead of the depressing and foreboding world of Night, Dawn, Day, and to an extent Land, we are given a more comedic edge to the proceedings and a less lethal look at the zombie plague. Instead, Romero has opted to put the zombies in the background and use the ongoing feud between the warring families as a chance to reflect the violent nature of those dead and rotten corpses. There's a lot of things going on in this film and I recommend giving it another viewing to let it all seep in. The characters are fleshed out and likable, the comedy works for the most part, and the gore and zombie kills are never boring or stale.

I have to give Romero credit for running with the zombie concept as long as he has and to be able to come up with some new ideas to bring into the world that he created. What he has given us is entertaining to say the least and that's nothing to dismiss. This is far from his masterpieces that he conceptualized earlier in his career, but that doesn't mean that this film isn't good. It's just different, with a different tone and approach, and one that I was thoroughly entertained by and often impressed with. I recommend this film to anyone that loves zombie movies and anyone that can view a directors efforts without comparing it to his past works. Just sit back and relax and watch a fun movie with walking corpses wreaking havoc on a world gone mad. If you don't take it too seriously then you'll have a hell of a good time.

3 out of 5 stars      A Fun Ride Into Romero's Zombie Filled World.


11 comments:

  1. Re: "Survival of the Dead is not one of Romero's best zombie movies, but it's not his worst either."

    Well said. The vitriol being aimed at this flick is off the charts. I had some issues with the dialogue and the mass zombie climax felt oddly contrived, but it's nowhere near the career-ending disaster whiny jaded fanboys are painting it as.

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  2. Whoops!
    Sorry for the double (now triple) post dude!

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  3. Hahaha.. lots of posts! Yeah I'm finding it hard to believe why so many people are panning his latest effort when it's not that bad of a try.

    Like you said there were a few moments with the dialogue that were a little off and the zombie climax kind of was forced on us, but other then that the whole of his effort was great and thoroughly entertaining.

    Here's to hoping that he doesn't listen to those nay-sayers and continues doing what he does best, bringing the zombies.

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  4. 3 Stars? wow. This is one of the top 5 worst movies I've ever seen. You're whole blog has lost credibility by this review.

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  5. I'm sorry you feel that way, but I really suggest that you broaden your horizons a bit. There are so many more shitty movies out there for you to discover. Don't settle for Survival of the Dead to be in your top 5 worst movies. Aim for the stars!

    For some reason I feel that my "credibility" is still intact, but to each his own. Enjoy the bitterness of cinema and you'll find that you will only be coming up with crap to bitch about. Enjoy what you like and leave the personal opinions to yourself if you have nothing positive to bring to the table.

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  6. Let's be honest, folks: Romero hasn't really made a truly good film in so many years (I can't, in all good conscience, say that he's made anything worthwhile since 'Creepshow,' actually) that denigrating this one seems almost inconsequential. Such is the dilemma a filmmaker faces when he makes classics early in his career. Being considered the Grandfather of Gore has pigeonholed Romero, who has always had a keen eye for satire, into making efforts that appear self-parodies. I would not consider this his worst by any means, but it's certainly not among his best, either. I also know his lead actresses haven't been the most attractive lot (Michelle Morgan being a glaring exception), but Kathleen Munroe is uglier than Lori Cardille.
    The usage of CGI, however much a staple of movie-making it is these days, detracts, to me, from Romero's "Grand Guignol." There's just something about seeing a fake head explode as opposed to it being computerized; yes, you know it's a fake head, but the fact it happened in 'real' life -- meaning someone had to actually make it, fill it up with cherry bombs and let it fly -- just gives the whole rigmarole a more organic feel. I guess that's what's missing the most; in his best zombie flicks, Romero was able to touch on our primal fears with a devastating combination of social satire, horror and, just like "The Manchurian Candidate," a sense of dystopia, a palpable-but-bleak nightmare made much more menacing from the idea this could all happen someday. CGI tends to make me disassociate from the humanity of these films -- and they need that. Without it, you've just got a series of scenes connected by soulless characters, with some poorly-done, albeit imaginative (but ultimately forgettable), zombie kills.
    I know nothing ever stays the same, but with Romero, change hasn't been good. I know it's hard to make a relevant zombie movie in today's MTV quick-cut world -- especially when the genre has been inundated since Romero's 1968 masterpiece -- but if anyone can do it, I still think it's him.

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  7. Nice review, Jay. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Judging by all the mud slinging I've read about this one, it appears far too many people are waiting for the next DAWN OF THE DEAD and it's not going to happen. Romero should be applauded for trying something different each time. Those that can't handle his new movies should just re-watch DAWN again.

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  8. Thanks Venom! Exactly. I've always enjoyed Romero's movies, because he never settles for re-treading the same story when it comes to his zombie films. He's always adding something new to the mix when it comes to his social commentary, political message, and underlying theme.

    In his earlier career he did this in abundance with his sub-horror genre skipping around, by giving us memorable films like his unique vampire masterpiece Martin, to his unique trippy housewife witchcraft tale Season of the Witch, to his insane inducing mental mob film The Crazies, and even into one of the most original films that I've ever had the pleasure to witness, Knightriders.

    The man is doing what he loves and unbelievably he's still doing it to this day. That's a great feat for an independent filmmaker from Pittsburgh whose always done things his way. Like I said in the review, Survival of the Dead is no Dawn of the Dead, but not everything can be as great as that stupendous film.

    People just need to stop looking for what once was and start appreciating new and varied films from a great director who makes stories he wants to make.

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  9. Well said. I think yours is one of the few fan reviews that were positive in any way. I should have my own up sometime tonight.

    Supposedly, Romero has two more DEAD films left in him. Hopefully, those will be just as varied as the six prior films.

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  10. Yeah, knowing Romero they'll be interesting. I say bring it on!

    Sadly the positive reviews on this film are few and far between, but I've run across a handful of less vocal viewers that enjoyed the film for what it was.

    I'm looking forward to your take on it. I'll check back later tonight.

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