Survival of the Dead (2009)

Survival of the Dead (2009)

Death isn’t what it used to be.

A band of weary soldiers, tired of the broken world that has come to be since the rise of the zombie hordes, decide that they would be better off on their own and go on the run. They are lured to a small island which promises to be the last paradise on Earth. There they find a world even more at war with each other as two rival clans battle for control of the island, both with differing views on how the zombie problem should be sorted out.

 

George A. Romero redefined horror back in 1968 with his landmark Night of the Living Dead. The granddaddy of all zombie films, it was followed by two splendid sequels with Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, both of which have become just as iconic and revered. He then ‘did a George Lucas’ and waited another twenty years before deciding the time was right to make a ‘second trilogy’ which kicked off with Land of the Dead in 2005 and followed with Diary of the Dead in 2007. Now Romero completes his second trilogy with Survival of the Dead. I don’t really know what Romero was thinking with this one. It’s a little sad to see him desperately trying to re-live his glory days by flogging a dead horse – or should that be zombie horse?

It’s really hard to see what Romero was trying to accomplish with this one. He’s pretty much done everything he can with the zombies yet still finds new ways to string out another film with them in. I started to get the feeling in Land of the Dead that Romero was struggling to inject some new social commentary into the film that hadn’t been done already. Well this one confirmed it. Zombie films almost always contain a scene in which a human is forced to make a tough decision when confronted with a loved one who is now a zombie or is about to turn into one. In his earlier work, these scenes packed emotional punches (seeing Fly Boy turn into a zombie in Dawn of the Dead still freaks me out today) but they were always side stories which added dramatic gravitas to the film’s overall feel.

For Romero to base an entire film around this conundrum seems a little lacking in imagination and fresh impetus on where to take his series. The islanders aren’t sure whether to kill them all off or keep them ‘alive’ since they used to be relatives and friends. The ‘pro zombie’ lobby try and force them to re-do mundane everyday jobs in an attempt to get them trained up and able to eat something other than humans. Of course it doesn’t work otherwise there wouldn’t be a gory finale. It’s hardly new material since the mad doctor in Day of the Dead was attempting to domesticate Bub the zombie using human flesh as treats. Only this time the entire film is based around this idea, not just a secondary plot thread.

Survival of the Dead is still gory but like many modern horrors, traditional make-up effects have been replaced with CGI. It looks terrible when it’s used and it’s used a lot. Bring back Tom Savini! Even the copious amounts of blood seem lacklustre now, whatever form they may take. Characters don’t seem to be as concerned with the zombies as they once were – previously they’d run away on sight or try and hide but now the soldiers just roll their eyes when they see a zombie. They are more of a nuisance than a threat. The world in which the film is set seems to be just as bored of the zombie hordes as we are now. Romero’s zombies were always slow moving and useless on their own but their fear factor came from their overwhelming numbers. Yet we never see any overwhelming force here, just small groups of zombies which are taken out with relative ease by the characters who normally carry guns – again lessening the effectiveness of the zombie threat.

Of course there’s the token ‘zombies break free and go on rampage’ finale but even that feels low key and pretty pointless. To make matters worse, the comedy aspect that was present in Romero’s earlier films (but only played to relieve tension) is now given too much focus. The zombies are killed off in wacky ways which would befit a Road Runner cartoon. Fire extinguishers, flares, pitchforks, dynamite and more are used to blast zombies from here to eternity. It may be fun to some but is this really what the zombies were originally intended for? To act as mere shooting galleries for Romero to keep killing in any way he sees fit? What about the scares? What about the fear and panic? There is no sense of dread. There is no sense of urgency. To say the world has gone to pot, there’s no feeling of doom like there was in his earlier work. Everything is more or less wrapped up in a neat little package and, save for the loss of a few characters, everything at the end of the film is as it was in the beginning.

 

It’s clear to see that Romero is struggling to breathe new life into his franchise. Survival of the Dead is the weakest of the series by a long way and shows that the series clearly needs a bullet in the head to put it to rest once and for all. If he hadn’t made such groundbreaking films in the past, this wouldn’t even appear on anyone’s radar.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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