Directed by George A. Romero
I think that the tagline on this poster more or less sums up the movie perfectly. (And here I was, worrying about how I was gonna start this review off.) Death (or in this case, zombies, but come on you know that) isn’t what it used to be in the hands of George A Romero anymore. The man who made two of the greatest horror films of all time, “Night of the Living Dead” and the sequel that outdid the original, “Dawn of the Dead” is apparently now the creative equivalent to the meaty and soulless husks he bases so many of his movies about. Hell, even “Day of the Dead” is more or less criminally underrated (though admittedly nowhere near in the same league as its two predecessors). So where does “Survival of the Dead” fall? Well, despite having the worst title in Romero’s series, the actual film itself is surprisingly watchable.
I have to say though. Up until “Diary of the Dead” the phrase surprisingly watchable as pertaining to George A Romero and zombie movies would have been considered blasphemy. Sure, “Land of the Dead” wasn’t a masterpiece, but it did its job and at least remained appealing. Then came “Diary of the Dead”, one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I actually had to stop the film before the end and apologize to the person I was watching it with for having made them sit through so much of it. (Something I had never done before or since.) The problem with it stemmed from Romero’s high-concept choice. (Which, though I’m sure it was a great idea when he came up with it, by the time he actually came around to releasing it films like “Cloverfield” and “REC” had already set the bar too high with the whole POV horror film genre.) And the reason that was a bad choice for Romero is simple, it’s hard to take a Romero film seriously. Yes, horror films in general are hard to take seriously, but Romero infuses his films with a zany sense of humour and (at times, when he’s cracking) biting satirical sensibility. Long story short, the entire purpose of the POV horror film is to make you feel as if you are really part of the horror, and Romero’s ideals are bigger then all that. They need a much wider canvas to be painted on. So “Diary” was a disaster. Enter “Survival”.
“Survival” starts off rough, straightens itself out, coasts, and then comes crashing down is a glorious pile of flames. But the one thing it always is, is watchable. Whether it’s a man fishing for zombies, a horse riding zombie, or the notion that human beings care more for their dead then they do their living, there is something in this movie for everyone to either laugh, scream, or cry out of sheer enjoyment and frustration at. Romero’s subtext in this film is probably the strongest it’s been since “Dawn” back in the 70’s, but that isn’t to say that he pulls it off gracefully. It’s too heavy-handed at times and by the end, the payoff just doesn’t seem like it was really worth anything. But it’s there and for the most part it works. What doesn’t work is the characters. All of the main characters have the dimensionality of liquid paper. It’s pure surface, they range from one extreme emotion to another, often in the span of three seconds. And of course, without any interesting characters the stakes are practically nil, and a horror film is nothing without its stakes.
Regardless, I stand by my original point. The film is watchable, especially if you are a fan of Romero movies. We’re more likely to forgive him for the little (or big) things than most. There are certainly worse ways to kill an hour and a half, and there is the occasional flash or brilliance that makes you remember the talent that the man still has in him somewhere. Here’s hoping he can find it again, and make one last excellent zombie movie.