Screen Rant’s Rob Frappier Reviews Survival of the Dead
Survival of the Dead, the sixth film in George Romero’s “Dead” franchise, might be the director’s weirdest zombie movie yet. Mixing genres freely, Survival is at times a Western, a traditional splatter flick, and a Looney Tunes cartoon. Unfortunately, the result is a muddled film that lacks Romero’s trademark social satire and delivers few, if any, relatable characters.
Survival of the Dead takes place on the fictional Plum Island where two Irish families have been at war for decades (think Hatfields vs. McCoys, but with brogues). The O’Flynn clan, led by Patrick, believes that zombies should be killed immediately, no questions asked. The Muldoons, led by Seamus, think that Zombies should be kept alive in case a cure for their condition is ever found. Stuck between these feuding families is a band of AWOL National Guard soldiers (first seen in 2007’s Diary of the Dead) who only want to find a quiet place to ride out the zombie uprising in peace.
I would describe the plot further, but there’s really nothing to say. A few conventional zombie cliches pop up (i.e. someone is bit, but hides it from the others), but the bulk of the movie consists of the O’Flynn and Muldoon patriarchs taking turns complaining about one another. There are also a few sub-plots involving the National Guard soldiers, but none of them merit particular attention and do little to add to the film’s overall enjoyment.
On the gore side, a number of excellent and creative zombie kills are sprinkled throughout the movie (a moment early on involving a fire extinguisher made me laugh out loud) and there are some great practical effects. Unfortunately, Romero goes a little overboard on CGI during the film, leading to far too many cheap-looking headshots.
Worse than the so-so CGI, however, is the fact that the film lacks any real sense of tension. I know that most people watch zombie movies for the gore, but shouldn’t there be some scares? Opening credits tell us that the zombies have only been walking among the living for a short period of time, yet the characters in Survival walk around brazenly, completely unafraid.
As far as social commentary goes, I suppose if Survival of the Dead teaches us anything, it’s that zombies “die” easily, but old feelings die hard. The patriarchs of the Muldoon and O’Flynn clans are as single-minded as the zombie hordes that surround them. This doesn’t make them particularly likable or fun to watch, but it does serve to prove a point.
In theory, the way the characters refuse to come to any middle ground is meant to represent humanity’s inability to unite in face of a greater threat, be it climate change, global development, or, you know, zombies. Unfortunately, Romero’s characters are too underdeveloped to allow his indictment of primitive tribalism to strike a resonant chord.
The 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead is and always will be Romero’s best film. It had a revolutionary impact on independent filmmaking and has had a strong influence on the horror genre for more than 40 years. Among Romero’s modern zombie films, I think 2005’s Land of the Dead is the most entertaining and conceptually satisfying. With Diary, and now Survival, however, it seems like Romero is more interested in playing around with ideas than in delivering quality films. Seeing as the man literally invented the zombie movie genre, of course, Romero has more than earned this right.
Bottom line: Survival of the Dead doesn’t show Romero at the top of his form, but it does deliver some laughs and a handful of unique zombie kills. I imagine genre purists will find enough in the film to justify watching it, though I have significant doubts on whether the film will catch on with casual audiences.
Zombie aficionados can watch Survival of the Dead in the comfort of their own homes today through video on demand, XBox Live, the Playstation Network, Vudu, and Amazon.com. Survival of the Dead hits theaters on May 28th.