Title: Survival of the Dead (2010)
Director/Writer: George A. Romero
Cast: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Richard Fitzpatrick
I’m always looking forward to whatever George Romero is working on because he is one of my favorite filmmakers. What I enjoy about his films is that they always had that rebellious air to them. It is no secret that his films are always laced somehow with the proverbial “social commentary”, they always got something to say. Some people don’t like this aspect of Romero’s films because they feel that they are being preached at by Romero and his world view, others say “bring it on Romero!” and love the social issues he addresses in his films. I say every and any filmmaker is supposed to show us his or her world view through their films, asking a filmmaker not to do that is like asking a writer not to give his own personal take on things in his latest novel. So, with that in mind: what issues was Romero addressing in Survival of the Dead? And was it a good zombie film?
Survival of the Dead is about two families, the Muldoon’s and the O’Flynn’s. Both families are constantly fighting for their beliefs. They both live in Plump Island on a constant feud. What are they fighting for? The Muldoon’s believe that zombies don’t need to be destroyed. They believe that zombies simply need to be taught to eat something else other than human flesh. The Muldoon’s kind of revere the living dead in a way, because all the zombies that are on the island used to be family members, so, since they are family, they are their blood and lineage, they don’t want to ‘kill’ them. On the other hand the O’Flynn’s believe that all zombies need to be eradicated, and that we simply need to start things anew, new rules, new society, because the old world rules simply don’t work. Which side will win this debate, and will the feuding between both families ever stop? Who will take control over Plump Island?
The leader of the O'Flynn's
Keeping in line with the rest of Romero’s body of work, Survival of the Dead is chuck full of social commentary. Hell, the social commentary is kind of hard to avoid no this one, it’s pretty much in your face. I would have to say that this is Romero’s most blunt film in terms of the message it’s trying to put across. Now if you are one of those people who doesn’t like this aspect of George Romero films, then by all means skip this one because this one is heavy on themes. But you guys know me, I LOVE themes! So though I didn’t entirely love this George Romero film because it has many faults to it, I did like the message it was trying to put across.
To kill a zombie or not to kill a zombie, that is the question!
The main theme is, liberals vs. conservatives. The rich vs. the poor. The religious vs. the unbelieving, the guys who play by the rules vs. the rebels who want to change it all. The Muldoon’s are a family who lives by the rules, they believe in god, they believe in heritage and the old traditions. They respect and revere the beliefs of their ancestors almost to a blinding degree. They will live and die by their self righteous ideals. On the other hand, The O’Flynn’s want to shake things up, they don’t revere the living dead, they want to destroy them. They know that once their family members turn into a zombie, they are no longer the family members that they knew and loved, so they have no problems in shooting them right in the head and ending their miserable undead existence. The O’Flynn’s want to move on, they want to change things. They don’t want to live with the ideals of the past; they want to set new ideals. Now, the question that Romero brings up with the film is, which side is right? In the never ending struggle between these two ways of thinking (same as it is in the real world we live in) is either side right? Both sides resort to violence when it comes down to it, they both kill people for what they believe in, so is either one right?
Romero has a younger kid in the film who is kind of living in limbo, he isn’t really part of either group. I saw this kid as the representation of the new generation that’s coming up, with new ideas. Because let’s face it, when we are born into this crazy world we live in things have already been messed up for generations and generations before we even got here. We arrive into this world where insanity is currently in progress. Do we play along with the way things are, or do we point a finger and say “you guys are freaking nuts!”? Often times, rebellions start in college campuses, with the younger generations basically telling the world how wrong they are. How they don’t like the world they are living it and want to change it, so I guess this is why on Survival of the Dead we see this young guy kind of living amongst the rebels but ultimately going out on his own, finding his own way of doing things, hoping for new horizons.
But what is all this social commentary good for if to have it we must sacrifice getting a good zombie movie? Here is where the film kind of looses its strength for me because it fails in certain aspects to be a good zombie movie, to entertain. It has its moments, it has the traditional zombies ripping a body apart sequence and there is some gory fun to be had, but ultimately the film feels flat. And here’s another weird thing about Survival of the Dead: Romero was trying to infuse the film with comedic elements. This is something that I don’t think Romero had ever tried before. Sure there was a Hare-Krishna zombie in Dawn of the Dead, and a zombie clown in Day of the Dead, but that’s about as funny as Romero got. On Survival of the Dead Romero is purposely trying to be funny, problem is I’m not entirely sure it worked. I mean, in my opinion, the film wasn’t funny enough. If funny is what Romero wanted to be, he had to really go for it. Unfortunately he didn’t go all the way with it; instead, he chose to simply kill zombies in ‘funny’ ways. Practically every single zombie death in the film is an attempt of Romero at comedy. One zombie gets killed by a fork with a hot god on it; one zombie gets the contents of a fire extinguisher shoved up into his brains and come out of his eyes. One guy is fishing and he fishes a zombie! Now, I’m all for funny zombie deaths, and comedy in zombie films, Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead are two good examples. But if you’re going to go funny, you really have to go at it. And Romero simply half assed it. As a result, we have an uneven film that comes off as trying to be funny, but never fully achieving it.
On the dvd features, they ask George Romero about the use of CGI on his modern day zombie films as opposed to using practical effects the way he used to back in the day. He goes on to explain that he wants to remain competitive in today’s modern filmmaking world. He also goes on about how it’s faster to shoot a film when you fix everything in post production because while you are shooting the film, you don’t have to worry about timing the squib explosion with the blood squirting on the wall. Everything Romero was saying on this interview sounded exactly like what I have always thought about excessive use of CGI, it can lend itself for lazy filmmaking! I mean, he did these effects practically in the past on so many films before, so what is the problem with doing it that way now? He wants to shoot faster, get the scenes out of the way and go to the next scene. Can’t blame him for wanting to shoot faster, but does that mean you have to sacrifice realism? Let’s face it, CGI blood does not look real, I can spot it every time and it takes you out of the film. I’m sad to say that Survival of the Dead has tons of bad CGI effects. One particular scene has a bunch of decapitated zombie hands stuck on these poles; they look as if they were copy pasted onto the scene! Freaking horrible! Want to be competitive Romero? Stick to real blood, stick to practical effects and stop doing these copy pasted CGI effects because they only bring down your work! I understand you have you to bring a movie in on time, and you have to work with a small budget, but my advice? Do not sacrifice the quality of your film! It’s not worth it in the end.
The man, the myth, the legend, George A. Romero
So what we have here ladies and gentlemen is a film that has some interesting themes to it. I love Romero’s social commentary on the way things are in the world. Always have always will. What I didn’t like was the uneven tone the film has. It was trying to be funny but never really achieved it. And then there is the lazy filmmaking. I mean, hearing Romero talking about how much easier it is to film a zombie scene by using CGI effects made me a little sadder inside as a horror fan. I mean hearing filmmaker like Romero, a horror master saying “I want to take the easy road” wasn’t exactly what I was expecting to hear from the legendary filmmaker, specially after all the great horror films he has made in his lifetime. I hope Romero sees the final result and realizes it wasn’t worth it. Still, I am hopeful that Romero has one more great zombie film in him.
Rating: 2 out of 5