Survival of the Dead

Synopsis: The newest film from horror master George A. Romero (legendary creator of the Night Of The Living Dead franchise) picks up where Diary Of The Dead leaves off – in a nightmarish world where humans are the minority and the zombies rule. Off the coast of Delaware sits Plum Island, where two families are locked in a struggle for power. The O’Flynns approach the zombie plague with a shoot-to-kill attitude. The Muldoons feel that the zombies should be quarantined and kept ‘alive,’ in hopes that a solution will be discovered. For both families, existence on Plum Island is a nightmarish world where humans are the minority and zombie rule.

Survival of the Dead 7.5

‘Survival of the Dead’ is George Romero’s latest film. It came out about a year ago and is his sixth entry in the “Dead” canon. For the first time, he has made a film that is related to his other ones; although he has made many zombie films, they all followed different characters and events.

‘Survival’ is not really a sequel or follow-up: it provides a small amount of back-story to a sequence that lasted about 90 seconds in ‘Diary’. The scene in question takes place when our group of road-tripping young adults are accosted by a horde of military personnel in full gear. Initially under the impression that they had been rescued or are about to get some help by the authorities, they soon realize that these soldiers have gone rogue and couldn’t care less about their fate – all these men want is to loot their vehicle of all things valuable.

In ‘Survival’ we follow the leader of this pack, as well as some of his crew, as they wander about trying to survive in a world so dangerous that live human beings are far and few. In fact, they’ve become so used to being alone that they’ve insulated themselves completely; they are a tight-knit group of flawed people who tolerate each other and work together out of necessity. Thus they manage to endure waves of zombie attacks and thrive in an otherwise savage land.

I loved that Romero tied the two films together in such an obscure way; had I not seen the other film mere days before, I may not have clued into it at all – memory being fickle at best over time. In my estimation, it beats the heck out of sequels and reboots: it manages to create a larger world for the filmmaker and the audience to enjoy, it expands and creates a more complete and richer experience, but without rehashing overly familiar ground. In a way, I hope that he will do more of this and tie many secondary characters together over time; it would make for a great oeuvre.

He also tied these characters to a completely different subplot along the way – it’s not only about these goons running around pillaging whatever they fancy.

No. This would never happen in Romero’s hands: in his world, things are much more complex and not everything is as it seems and/or works out for the best – Hollywood endings are a rare occurrence in his work. So, in this case, he decided to throw these mercenaries in the cross-hairs of two warring clans, two families who have been at odds for decades (and even more so since the zombie plague has decimated their island!).

The film begins with these two clans, and it rolled out what I consider to be an amazing first half hour – one of the best in recent memory. The intensity of the drama and the harshness of the reality that these people are facing came through exceptionally well. You see, with all their family and friends slowly transforming in their midst into dangerous undead creatures, some hard decisions had to be made: do you hunt them down and put them out of their misery, or do you find a way to keep them “alive”, yet out of the way, until a cure can (hopefully) be found?

The two opposing approaches to the crisis simply don’t have any grey areas and finding a middle ground between them is unlikely at best. Add to this two leaders who’ve hated each other since childhood, who are intransigent in their views and intentions, and you have some serious conflicts emerging on a quasi-regular basis. Because, even though they are not literally at war with each other, their respective approaches deeply affect the other and tears at them.

Meanwhile, lured by the promise of fortune, our pack of roving marauders get suckered into believing that this island is a safe haven for them, away from the zombies, and away from the rest of North America’s disintegrating civilization. (On a personal note, it may have sounded like a great idea at the time, but they clearly hadn’t considered the fact that the undead are undeterred by large stretches of water: they don’t need to breathe, eat or rest, so they can easily wander about the world as they please – whether there’s water or not)

Basically, what we end up watching is a drama that happens to involve zombies. Sure there are action scenes, and good ones at that, but the film revolves mostly around these family matters. I think that it’s a great idea in principle because there are too many zombie movies that solely focus on the gore and violence. However, I felt that things got bogged down by the time the mercenaries made their way to the island; at that point, the movie seems to lose its way a bit and the dramatic tension has a hard time holding up.

Still, I liked what Romero was trying to say with his film. In the end, his message is that sometimes we are in conflict out of habit – that it’s only because we haven’t known anything else for ages and that the real reasons have been lost in time (the last scene, in particular, makes a burlesque statement about the irrationality of hatred). It’s an obvious thing to say, I know, but I love that it was presented in the context of a scary movie – a genre that is always criticized for its lack of depth and/or intelligence.

In ‘Survival of the Dead’, Romero doesn’t expand too much on the theme, and I think that it’s a serious shame – he was onto something and it feels like a lost opportunity. Still, despite some flagrant misfires (in particular, a horse-riding zombie – which is a great visual, but is seriously unrealistic). I believe that it will grow on me over time – and I am already looking forward to seeing it again.

Nota bene: for those who’ve lost count but would like to (re)visit Romero’s “dead” films for Hallowe’en, here is the complete list, in chronological order: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead.

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