Notable Cast: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick, Richard Fitzpatrick
Review: I had the chance to catch an advanced screening of the latest edition into famed director George A. Romero’s Dead franchise, which isn’t released for another two weeks. Romero’s last foray into the zombie genre was Diary of the Dead, which he experimented with first person camera filming showing us the story through the view of a group of film students trying to survive on their own while documenting the bizarre happenings. But despite being a die-hard Romero and zombie fan, I found the film to be very slow and bland. Romero basically gave the entire zombie movie genre the reputation it still has, but I feel that now other directors have taken it to a whole new and interesting place (like Zack Snyder’s “remake” of Dawn of the Dead). Romero’s techniques of old just don’t hold the same weight as they did many years ago. But, Survival of the Dead sounded like an interesting enough concept and I liked the idea of using a smaller character from Diary of the Dead as the main character for another film so that the movies feel tied together and the characters don’t just disappear. For me Survival was going to be the movie that proved that Diary was a fluke and Romero could take the entire genre somewhere so influential it would have the same effect as the influence of the trilogy that started it all (Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead for those not hardcore fans).
As I said, Survival of the Dead follows Sergeant Crocket (Van Sprang) and his small team that decided staying with the national guard unit the film crew from Diary ran into was putting them all in jeopardy. So when they receive news that a small island off the coast of Delaware is broadcasting a message claiming the island is safe and mostly zombie free, their decision becomes easier as to where they should be headed. What the group doesn’t know though is that the island is in the middle of a war between the two families that occupy it, the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. And poor Patrick O’Flynn (Welsh) was shamefully kicked off the island, only to start broadcasting promises of safety as a trap to lure people in for their money. But when he realizes the potential of storming Plum Island with a team of national guardsmen, he decides to join their group and find safety on the island once again. It works for everyone. O’Flynn gets a chance for revenge against the Muldoons, and Crocket’s men get the safety they’re looking for. But can the team fend off the ravenous zombies and the spiteful Muldoons? Honestly, if I had to bet, I’d take the guys with assault rifles over some ranchers toting old fashion hand guns that look like they barely work.
I’ll start off simply by stating Survival had all the same problems with it that Diary did. There was no real suspense or excitement, and at no point in the movie did I feel any sense of danger for the characters. They displayed little to no emotion, and felt more just like lifeless drones walking through the movie who really didn’t care if they lived or died. And frankly, neither did I. Not once in the entire movie did I react to anything on-screen that would signify any type of emotional investment in the characters. Hell, some of the characters weren’t even necessary at all to the film. Devon Bostick plays a character simply titled Boy, who runs into Crocket in the beginning of the film and tags along for some reason. He serves no point at all. After reflecting on the film afterwards, I came to the conclusion that if he was omitted from the movie all together, it would play out the same exact way. No one’s lives would be changed at all and he offered no aspect of comic relief or any plot device for that matter. I can’t really tell what Romero was thinking when he wrote up this character and added him to the story. And yes, I know this was a horror film, which aren’t particularly well-known for having grade A casts. But is it too much to ask for some characters that do more than stare blankly and shoot at a horde of zombies moving so slow even the “fatties” from Zombieland could get away with ease? The characters just stood there, shot, reloaded. Stood there, shot, reloaded. There weren’t even any cheesy one liners that can be so common in movies of this caliber. This movie was so bad, it was just plain bad. I can’t even pull the so bad it’s good defense for this film which I so commonly have to do to defend some of my favorite horror flicks. This film was so bad it was just bland, boring, and forgettable.
I also found myself watching these people die on-screen and wondering how they were able to let a zombie take then down. Again, if you aren’t hardcore into Romero films, let me describe his style of zombie. They walk, don’t run. Well, not so much walk as sluggishly drag their feet across the ground one after another. Their movements are also very rigid and spastic. No coordination whatsoever. And sneaky? Yea, try the opposite. Crocket and his men can hear them a mile away. So I ask again, how are you able to let these lumbering morons catch you? I get that they travel in packs and can outnumber you, but how is it not possible to just turn and run the other direction? Instead, these characters seem to have given up on life all together and are content with standing in one place and taking down as many zombies as they can until the entire horde is turning them into the special of the day. That’s what caused the lack of danger and excitement some horror movies possess, where the characters are put in situations where not even running with save them. Like in the Dawn of the Dead remake. Those zombies moved with some pep in their step and running was useless. This was able to add a sense of despair to the atmosphere that also helped work as a motivator and gave the characters a more human element, which Survival of the Dead is missing.
And I haven’t even gotten to the whole family feud going on at Plum Island. Apparently none of the many societal advances ever touched Plum Island because both the Muldoons and O’Flynns act like families from an old-time western, except they’re all Irish. It’s like Crocket and his men are from a different time than the inhabitants on the island. I thought it was ridiculous how stubborn the characters were and how irrational everything they did was. People were dying all over the island just because Patrick O’Flynn and Seamus Muldoon were rivals. And no one questioned them? In a time where it was every man for themselves and everything about life was becoming turned upside down, people followed these men like gods instead of sitting down and thinking “Hey, we have an entire island to ourselves and we can keep it safe.” Yeah, that doesn’t happen. Instead the island would rather fight about who is right, just creating more bodies to add to the army of undead who are the real enemies at the time. And the ending? It was more like a slap in the face to the viewer and was completely lacking any sort of logic (yes, even though it is a zombie film). Romero tries to catch you off guard with a surprise twist. Too bad right before it happened I was able to call it perfectly. Not much of a twist when you see it coming a mile away.
In a time now where many directors are contributing their own takes on zombies, Romero sticks with the styles he has been using for years. Yes, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. But Romero’s movies date back to 1968. Then, Romero’s zombies were scary and new. But now that new zombies have been introduced to the viewer, Romero’s just don’t have the same effect. Don’t think that’s what ruined the movie though. I love the mythology he established in his earlier movies and love how each movie builds on the last. A lot of the fault to Survival of the Dead can more importantly be attributed to the lack of attention to story, boring characters, and lack of excitement in any way. Two movies ago Romero was able to get the likes of Simon Baker, Dennish Hopper, and Asia Argento among others. Survival didn’t have a single household name. Not to say that these actors were terrible, but there was a certain talent level that almost made you feel like you were watching a made for TV movie at times. I expected so much more from such an established director and veteran in to the genre. Instead, he teases us with another film that doesn’t live up to the potential of movies he made with technologies that go back over 30 years ago. There is no denying what Romero contributed to the zombie genre, but maybe it’s time for him to step aside and let some new guns run with it. Movies like the Dawn of the Dead remake, Shaun of the Dead, and [Rec] make me believe there are people who can do zombies justice. And sadly I think it’s fair to say Romero is past his prime, however much it pains me to admit that.
Final Rating: 4.5 sluggish brain munchers out of 10