Friday, May 28, 2010

Movie Review: George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead ** ½
Directed By:
George A. Romero.
Written By: George A. Romero.
Starring: Alan Van Sprang (Crocket), Kenneth Welsh (Patrick O’Flynn), Devon Bostick (Kid), Richard Fitzpatrick (Seamus Muldoon), Kathleen Munroe (Jane O’Flynn)

In the past 41 years, George A. Romero has made six zombie movies. The first four – Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985) and Land of the Dead (2004) represent a series unto themselves, about a world that descends into complete chaos when the dead come back to life. The films got increasingly bleak as they went along. In these four movies, Romero not only invented the modern zombie movie, but he also perfected it.

In 2007, Romero reset his zombie apocalypse with Diary of the Dead, a low budget zombie movie, shot with handheld cameras, and told from the point of view of a group of young film students struggling to stay alive as the zombie outbreaks begins. Romero’s movie was undeniably a brilliant take on the Iraq war, and the internet generation, and proved that although he was getting older, Romero was not done with his zombies quite yet.

Now, he returns with Survival of the Dead, and while I think it is undeniably the weakest of the six zombie movies that Romero has made, it is still much better than most American horror movies we get. The film is well made and intelligently written. If Romero may lay his symbolism on a little thick this time, we forgive him his excesses, because at least he’s trying to say something in his horror films, unlike most filmmakers.

The film picks up shortly after Diary of the Dead left off. The film students are abandoned (probably because Romero left little hope of any of them getting out alive at the end of that movie), and instead focuses on a minor character from that movie – Crocket (Alan Van Sprang). Crocket was in the army, but he and three of his friends saw an opportunity to get out, and in a memorable sequence in Diary (recounted here), he and his compatriots, rob the students of their supplies and take off. Because it was captured on video, Crocket became a YouTube sensation. He and his three fellow AWOL soldiers continue on with their lives much like they did in the previous movie. That is, until the come across a kid (Devon Bostick from Egoyan’s Adoration last year), who shows them another internet video. This one has Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh), inviting everyone to come to Plum Island, off the coast of Delaware that he promises will be a zombie free paradise. We know different, since in the films opening scene, we saw O’Flynn put on a boat and thrown off the island by Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), his arch nemesis, because they disagree on how to deal with the zombies. O’Flynn wants to kill them all, and let God sort it out, but Muldoon wants to see if they can train the zombies to be human again – or at least keep them alive until a “cure” can be found. When the Soldiers, the Kid and O’Flynn go back to Plum Island, all hell breaks loose.

Survival of the Dead is Romero’s take on the Western genre, specifically; it’s his version of William Wyler’s The Big Country. In that film, two feuding ranchers are too busy fighting each other, to realize there are more pressing concerns that affect them both. It’s the same in this film. Kenneth Welsh, in the Burl Ives role, sees the world one way, and Richard Fitzpatrick, in the Charles Bickford role, sees it the completely opposite way. Instead of working out their differences, and finding common ground, they fight each other – a fight that will eventually destroy everything that both of them hold dear..

His commentary on war – which is subdued for most of the movie, until it becomes overt in the film frames of the film – is less effective though. He grafts it on unnaturally to the rest of the story, and it never really fits in with what is going on around him. With the exception of Welsh, he really is not aided by the performances either. Van Spark tries for Clint Eastwood type emoting and growling, but cannot pull it off. Fitzpatrick is more successful as the cocky, arrogant Muldoon, but the performance is not quite good enough. Bostick is pretty good as the Kid, but I never really figured out why he was there in the first place. The rest of the cast is not very good at all.

But even with these weaknesses, Survival of the Dead is a decent little horror movie. After 40 years and five previous movies, you would think that Romero would have run out ways to kill zombies, but he hasn’t. The films violence is brutal and bloody, but mostly over the top in a fun horror movie kind of way, which works, because when he really wants to disturb you with violence, he is still capable of doing it. A new Romero zombie film is always a reason to celebrate – I just wish that Survival of the Dead was just a little bit better.

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