Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // September 10th, 2010
"We gotta get these things to learn to eat somethin' other than
-- Seamus Muldoon
George Romero, the father of the entire Zed-word sub-genre, presents the latest installation in his unofficial undead franchise, Survival of the Dead: zombies on an island with a Western motif populated by Irishmen. That's pretty original, right?
Somewhere off the coast of Delaware resides an island split in twain by two clans of warring Irishman, The Flynns and The Muldoons. The hatred between Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh, The Aviator) and Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick, The Boondock Saints) runs so deep that not even the zombie apocalypse can stunt the growth of an old fashioned Irish disagreement. In this case, it's what to do with the undead: kill 'em or cure 'em?
Enter Sarge (Alan Van Sprang, Diary of the Dead) and his rag-tag gang of soldiers. After seeing O'Flynn's YouTube tourist video advertising their Celtic-zombie getaway, Crocket and Co. take refuge on the island. They quickly find out that the residents there have bigger problems than a couple of lousy brain-eaters.
George Romero's latest revivalist entry in his undead series had the dubious duty of making up for Diary of the Dead. That jargon-filled Cloverfield rip off was like 90 minutes of listening to someone's grandfather explain how the Internet works. Survival of the Dead, a more traditionally filmed horror movie, at least spares us the techno-babble. It instead just feels like 90 minutes of someone's grandfather arguing with his stubborn friend at the VFW.
The problems with Survival almost outnumber the amount of undead in the film. Primarily, George Romero seems tired of zombies. For a guy who practically invented the genre, and churned out four awesome films in his disconnected franchise (the last good one being Land of the Dead), his latest entry feels rushed and disinterested. Here, the zombies are like moths, buzzing around near lights and easily dispatched with a punch and a bullet. The bulk of the film takes place just a few weeks after the zombie outbreak and people are already sighing and goofing around with them?
Survival is a low-budget affair, but so was Night of the Living Dead and it managed to feel far more widespread and epic than this. Rather than escalate the zombie menace, Romero tames them, locks them up in carriage houses and barns only to unleash them for a predictable and disappointing final battle. Any creative zombie kills (and there are a few), are filled with so much CGI and slapstick comedy that they feel more like necessary inclusions than anything exciting or fist-pump-worthy.
While Romero treats all of his zombie action with an air of comedy (harking back to his satire in Dawn of the Dead, but with more of a Looney Tunes vibe), he approaches the Irish clan war with the seriousness of The Crucible. Romero has said that this film is supposed to be a Western-style homage to The Big Country, but he never fully commits to the premise -- and the reasoning behind making the feuding islanders Irish feels non-existent. So instead of a sweet cowboys and zombies mash-up, or a logical continuation of the Diary of the Dead universe, we get this film caught in thematic limbo with a bunch of humans shooting humans while zombies shuffle around in the background.
This would all be easier to swallow if we gave a hoot about a single character in this shambling mess. The "hero," Sarge, a thieving mercenary first seen in Land and then again in Diary, is a flat, one-note macho man. His gang of stereotypes (the weasely guy, the tomboy, the Spaniard) isn't anything but a bunch of warm bodies. They're joined by some plucky teen who isn't even given a name (Devon Bostick). None of them matter, and none of them seem to care that the world is falling apart.
Any good ideas in the film, and there are a few (especially the twist ending), are lost in a sea of cheesy special effects and unenthusiastic filmmaking. I admire Romero and love his first four zombie films, but his recent work doesn't fill me with confidence that things will get back to the way they once were at the Monroeville Mall.
For being low budget, the film looks decent enough, thanks largely to the high def RED camera system. The special effects occasionally stand out against the live footage, but the dark levels are serviceable and the cinematography has a few nice tricks up its sleeve. Oddly enough, the best looking footage can be found in the establishing shots. On the audio side, the moans and average score come in fine with the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track.
This "Ultimate Undead Edition" does come loaded with over a disc's worth of extra footage and featurettes. On the first disc, there's a crowded but informative commentary track, as well as a zany intro to the film by Romero, an HDNet video, and a 10-minute sit-down interview. The brains of the second disc lie in the 75-minute documentary Walking After Midnight by Michael Felsher, which provides an extensive look into the creation of the film. There's also a short called "Sarge," 13 brief behind-the-scenes clips, storyboard comparisons, and a how-to on creating your own zombie bite. Overall, it's an impressive collection of supplements.
Romero's first four zombie films always felt miles ahead of the pack despite that the fact that his ghouls don't run. They were filled with a confidence, a manly bravado that fit well with the atmosphere of world-gone-mad insanity he built up through those long shots of zombies shuffling along the countrysides of Pennsylvania. Now, the man who created the genre seems bored -- or at the very least, disillusioned into thinking we'd be more interested in an old man squabble than some tried-and-true head severing and brain destroying.
Survival of the Dead is more than a disappointment. It's alive on arrival.
Review content copyright © 2010 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Short Film