Combustible Celluloid
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With: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick, Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis, Stefano DiMatteo, Joris Jarsky, Eric Woolfe, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson, Joshua Peace, Hardee T. Lineham
Written by: George A. Romero
Directed by: George A. Romero
MPAA Rating: R for strong zombie violence/gore, language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 90
Date: 09/09/2009

Survival of the Dead (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Plum Lords

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Survival of the Dead is the sixth zombie film by the legendary master filmmaker George A. Romero. Right off the bat, the film has two problems. It invites comparison to the previous five Dead movies, some of which are roundly considered among the greatest films ever made. Nothing is going to stand up to that kind of scrutiny. It follows, then, that the new film contributes to the illusion that Romero's career is in decline. Many great filmmakers who started out with masterpieces have suffered this same fate (Orson Welles being key), and it's a mistake to assume this. I'm not going to claim that the new film is as good as Night of the Living Dead (1968), but I will say that it's a mistake to compare it to Romero's earlier films and find fault on that basis alone.

The fact is that Romero still makes films with the same kind of approach, and the same consistent style. The main differences are that the new film uses CGI rather than actual latex effects, and that the story is a kind of brilliantly loopy smorgasbord of ideas, rather than one "cohesive" idea. It begins by spinning off from a scene in Romero's last film, Diary of the Dead (2007). A band of renegade military men (and one woman) roam the countryside, looking to get the upper hand and perhaps to find a measure of safety. They are led by Sarge Crocket (Alan Van Sprang), and their number includes Francisco (Stefano DiMatteo), "Tomboy" (Athena Karkanis), and Chuck (Joris Lasky). They happen upon a teenage kid (Devon Bostick), and decide to take him along.

The kid tells them about the island of Plum, which is supposed to be "under control." To get there, they must meet up with old Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh). O'Flynn turns out to be a con artist, but the soldiers outgun him, and they're off to Plum together. Once there, the soldiers learn that O'Flynn is on one side of an ages-old feud with another of the island's occupants, Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick). Since the zombie outbreak, Muldoon wants to try to find a way to feed them and control them, while O'Flynn simply wants to dispatch them. (A prologue describes why each man's method is troublesome.) Of course, the feud escalates, with O'Flynn's pretty daughter (Kathleen Munroe) getting in the way, and with everyone having to choose a side.

Romero seems to understand that this story isn't particularly the stuff of great literature, and it has a slight silly tone to it (which may be another factor that's irritating to fanboys). The entire film is a mish-mash of genres, starting with the old "feud" genre, and combined with war movies, Westerns, sea adventures and even a couple of tributes to Looney Tunes and The African Queen. The main theme here is that O'Flynn and Muldoon are both right and both wrong, and that choosing a side is in itself an act of lunacy. In all Romero's zombie movies, the humans always seem to find something else to fight about rather than focusing their energies in the obvious place: the zombies. Romero himself supports this notion with the stylistic fabric of the film. He refuses to settle on one simple look or tone or genre, at the risk of forsaking any other look, tone or genre.

Overall, Survival of the Dead has its own thing going; it's brilliantly, playfully loopy. Let's remember that Romero invented this whole zombie thing, and that in its day, Night of the Living Dead also looked like garbage to those that didn't understand it. (Like Survival of the Dead, no one had ever seen anything quite like it.) It seems that younger zombie fans today prefer movies that pretty much look and feel like the stuff they're already used to, i.e. knockoffs like 28 Days Later and Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake. If anything fails to fit these predetermined parameters, it's blasted away. Romero has never been one to fit any kind of parameters, and thank goodness for that.

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