(by Dustin Putman
Funny, how it took filmmaker George A. Romero twenty years in between 1985's "Day of the Dead" and 2005's "Land of the Dead" to find funding for another picture in his undead series, yet he has since been on a roll, releasing a new entry every two or three years. His previous film, 2008's "Diary of the Dead," was a grave insult, a first-person account of the start of the apocalypse that couldn't have been more artificial if it tried; for a film proposing to be made up of on-the-fly camera footage of a zombie outbreak, the acting was wholly unconvincing and the music score overlaying the images (complete with sudden jump-scare stingers and comic-relief melodies) took the viewer right out of its would-be realism. For Romero's latest dip in a drying well, "Survival of the Dead" thankfully returns to the format of a conventional narrative and is a major step up from the atrocity that was "Diary of the Dead." Unfortunately, it is still not much better than mediocre, a horror-western hybrid with few scares or laughs and too much reliance on CGI gore over practical make-up effects. Social commentary and satire are, indeed, present—they are, after all, Romero's bread and butter—but that doesn't necessarily make the movie any less seemingly slapdash. Article continues below
It has been several weeks since the deceased began rising from their graves as flesh-eating monsters, and on Plum Island, off the coast of Delaware, a new battle has begun between warring families the Muldoons and the O'Flynns. Muldoon patriarch Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick) is dead-set against killing their own that have turned into zombies, believing it to be a sin as he waits for a cure to be discovered. O'Flynn head Patrick (Kenneth Welsh), however, is insistent that they are an abomination and should be terminated on sight. Coming between the two factions are the survivors of a military squad, led by Sarge 'Nicotine' Crockett (Alan Van Sprang), and a teenage boy (Devon Bostick) they have picked up along the way. Their hope is that sailing to Plum Island will provide them safety. They couldn't be more wrong.
"Survival of the Dead," like "Land of the Dead" before it, delves into the potential evolution of the undead from slow-moving, trance-like zombies into creatures that gradually gain human attributes based on the deep-seated memories from when they were alive. Thus, here we have the undead carrying out their sexist gender roles (one turned wife is chained to the kitchen and instructed to still cook and serve her husband food), while another young zombie woman rides across the rural countryside on a galloping horse. Also touched upon is the war between the Muldoons and the O'Flynns, fat egos long since replacing their original causes and motives for having started the showdown in the first place. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what writer-director George A. Romero intends to equate this with.
If "Survival of the Dead" offers up a little extra food for thought, per Romero's norm, the filmmaker otherwise appears to be running out of ideas and inspiration. The horror elements frequently take a backseat to character conflicts, yet everyone is so two-dimensional and underdeveloped that it is difficult to buy into it or care about the people's fates. The Muldoons and O'Flynns come off as complete Irish caricatures—and why, pray tell, does everyone living off the coast of Delaware sound like leprechauns?—while the military men and women are mostly used for zombie chow. Of the latter, Athena Karkanis (2009's "Saw VI") does show a bit of spunk as Tomboy, while Alan Van Sprang (2006's "Saw III"), playing Sarge 'Nicotine' Crockett, has a tough, magnetic presence as he reprises his role from "Diary of the Dead" and is promoted to lead actor.
Cinematographer Adam Swica (2009's "The Haunting in Connecticut") brings atmosphere to certain scenes and locations, including a desolate marsh and the teenage boy's (he's never given a name) lonesome walk through a breezy autumnal forest, but they are just about the only things to create suspense in an otherwise lacking genre affair. Stacked next to 1968's "Night of the Living Dead" or 1979's "Dawn of the Dead" or even 2005's "Land of the Dead," "Survival of the Dead" is lesser is all respects, an unmemorable version signaling that George A. Romero's heyday may sadly be over.