(2009) director George A. Romero
With Survival of the Dead, writer/director George A. Romero now has completed his second trilogy of zombie movies. His original trilogy, Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Day of the Dead (1985) are the core structure of his status as a major American film-maker. The later trilogy, Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), and now Survival of the Dead won’t do anything to cement that earlier reputation, but also won’t entirely erode it either. This latter series of films, in fact, have gone from mediocre to pretty bad, and at this point seem to have lost the plot to an extent.
Survival of the Dead is a real mish-mash of a movie. Part comedy, part Western, part zombie movie, it’s not committed whole-heartedly to any one direction. While it sort of follows the time frame of the prior two newer zombie films, even picking up a character that appeared in those films to follow in this one, it’s also a free-standing story of its own. On an small island off the coast of Delaware, a long-standing family feud between two Irish-American clans plays out in the post-Apocalyptic universe in regards to what to do with the zombies.
Kenneth Welsh plays Patrick O’Flynn, who thinks that the zombies should be most mercifully re-killed and buried, while his nemesis, Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), thinks that the zombies should be cultivated, trained to eat things other than humans, and potentially rehabilitated. That and they just plain hate each other. Enter a small roving National Guard militia, headed by Alan van Sprang, who are drawn to the island, and dragged into this Hatfield and McCoy-like feud, alongside the non-partisan zombies, and we’ve got the bulk of the story. Even with that rather convoluted center, there is a lot more: a teenage hipster, O’Flynn’s alienated daughter who is tired of the feud, her horse-riding zombie twin, and the ranch hand who loves her.
The film employs a number of creative ways to dispose of zombies, from flare guns to fire extinguishers. And the film also takes many opportunities for humorous zombie moments, where either the creatures are dumbly trying to maintain their functions as living beings (mailmen try to deliver the mail, farmers chop the wood, drivers drive their cars) or their lumbering attacks on the living.
But the film is just plain all over the place. The most effort, though probably still well below a majority percentage, is focused on the O’Flynn-Muldoon feud that leads up to a good old fashioned Western-style shootout, perhaps inspired by the 1958 film The Big Country. But it’s sloppy, unfocused, and generally just a hodgepodge of ideas. And while not lacking in entertaining moments, it’s hard to figure out if there is any real point to all this stuff.
Interestingly, the latter trilogy of zombie films saw Romero showing greater sympathy for the zombies. While Land of the Dead showed the continued callowness of humanity against the potential humanity of the zombies, Survival of the Dead, perhaps even in its title, plays out the question of an evolution of the living impaired. While they can’t necessarily “evolve” since they aren’t procreating, they can develop, be cultivated. But like so much of this film, the ideas are muddled beneath layers and layers of other stuff, never really developed themselves, and ultimately just left to hang there, much like a chained-up zombie with nothing to really do.
Will Romero make another zombie film? Who knows. Maybe he already is. One would hope that whatever he does, that he perhaps puts a little more thought into it next time. Nothing can take away from his original trilogy, but these later films continue to muddy the waters and tire out the concepts.