Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Survival of the Dead (2010)

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
George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (Two-Disc Ultimate Undead Edition)George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (Ultimate Undead Edition) [Blu-ray]George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (Single-Disc Edition) 


HorrO said...

I was also somewhat disappointed with this movie. I don't mind the themes, I just wanted more zombies. There wasn't enough zombie scenes in the movie, and when there were, it didn't seem like enough. I did like how he tackled what happens to zombies in the water, and eating something besides people. Overall, there was too much talk that bored me when I wanted to see more zombie action.

venoms5 said...

I watched a portion of this one the other night. I liked what I saw of it so far. I like the fact that Romero is going in different directions and experimenting with different styles.

Franco Macabro said...

@HorrO: I enjoyed the scene with the zombies underwater too, I think he played around with those ideas as well in Land of the Dead with the zombies crossing over the water, but on this one he went a little deeper so to speak.

@Venom5: Looking forward to your review of it!

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Yeah I didn't dig this one all that much either. I think having social commentary is fine, but don't sacrifice a good zombie story because of it. I think Romero was too focused on what he was trying to say instead of entertaining horror fans. I felt the same way about DIARY OF THE DEAD as well, even though I think SURVIVAL is a slightly better film. I just posted a review for THE CRAZIES and that was my issue with that film as well [too much commentary, not enough entertainment value]. I actually prefer the remake because at least it keeps it simple. Excellent review, sir!

Franco Macabro said...

Agree with you on The Crazies, Romero's original film is kind of messy, tehcnically speaking its not all that great either, the sound was awful, you could hardly hear what the characters are saying at times. I like some scenes on it though.

The original is far superior, I never thought much of Romero's original, always thought it was one of his lesser films, but this remake was equal parts entertaining and equal parts good story, loved the action packed ending!

I should be typing up a review for it soon, I kick myself in the head for not having written the review as soon as I saw the film (that happens to me sometimes) but I will be posting it soon. Thanks for commenting Fred!

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I thought you were a little harsh on Survival of the Dead, Francisco. I think Survival was an attempt by Romero to return to his character-based films like Day of the Dead and the original NotLD. Oddly, even though I appreciated his attempts to convey the differing beliefs as to whether a zombie is still a soul-bearing human or not via the two opposing families on the island, I never quite felt the pro-zombie Muldoon’s rational was believable. It didn’t ruin the film for me, but it did make if feel less “real”.

As far as the humor element is concerned, you’re correct in that if Romero was going for a humorous film (a la Shaun of the Dead) he should have done more than just include funny-zombie-executions. However, I think he was merely using these scenes as a counter-balance to the heavier dramatic scenes in the film. Romero has always used some humor to counter his mostly drama-heavy films and I didn’t think it was used to excess in Survival either.

The great debate over CGI vs. practical effects will rage on for years to come – especially among us older horror film fans. My opinion on CGI is that if the story is good, unless the CGI is truly awful, than I don’t have a preference for over one or the other. I disliked Diary of the Dead and I can’t honestly recall if Romero used CGI or not on that one. I liked Land of the Dead and I think he used mostly practical effects on that, but I’m not sure about that one either. I guess what I’m getting at is that if you are watching a film of any genre and picking apart the CGI, than it’s probably because it’s a poor film to begin with.

Despite Survival of the Dead’s flaws, I still think this one holds up well in comparison to Romero’s earlier zombie films. Hopefully, old George still has a few more stories left to tell.

Lee Russell said...

For me the biggest downfall of this film is the shoehorning of too much attempted comedy into it. The funny moments in the original trilogy never seemed as forced as they are here. Also, of course, the overuse of CGI effects cheapens the film. Even bad practical effects trump cheap CGI any day of the week. I also disliked the addition of "zombies eat animals too" into the cannon, as if they felt they needed to shove some twist in there just to keep things interesting. then there's the fact that film's story just wasn't that strong to start with. Oh, and don't get me started about the twin sister surprise. Just sad. Still, this is an improvement over "Diary...". Good review.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Garbage is a good way to describe this film, but I hesitate to use the word because it would be an insult to garbage. George A. Romero should be pensioned off and left to decay in a Pittsburgh retirement home. This is aimed at those people that havent grown out of 'Dawn of the Dead', 14 year olds in other words. Romero hasnt made a decent film for a quarter of a century...who keeps giving this senile old duffer money to make movies??? - Great review though Franco :-)

Franco Macabro said...

@Friz: I see your points Friz, but I just call it the way I see it, to me it was lazy filmmaking on Romero's part, and him getting a bit old, I can kind of understand that.

Agree, the thing with the Muldoon's NOT wanting to kill the zombies was not believable, I mean who in their right mind would want to keep a flesh eating zombie alive? That just seemed to me like Romero was forcing a plot twist on the film that made no sense, simply to make it fit with his social commentary. The Muldoon's dont want to kill their zombie family members because they represent a group of people that respects heritage and family traditions. So to comment on that, Romero made the Muldoons NOT want to destroy the zombies, but it didnt make much sense.

I see what you mean about the comedy trying to balance out the drama, but to me it made the movie uneven in tone, at times it seemed like a dead serious zombie movie, then suddenly some dude is fishing for zombies?

I dont think this one is the best of his zombie films, to me its even lower then Diary, which a lot of people hated, but I didnt. At least that one had a dreadful tone all through out.

Im with you in hoping that Romero will give us one last great zombie movie. Here's hoping!

@Lee: Yeah, bad cgi was one of the big problems with Survival for Me. I mean it was a constant thing! Even that gigantic moon in the end looked incredibly fake! I mean, moons never get that big! If the moon where to get that close to the earth, we'd have a serious problem with gravity! And dont get me started on those zombie heads stuck on the poles...they looked terrible. Things like these sacrificed a good zombie movie..I mean, those heads could have been done practically. Thanks for commenting LEe!

@Shaun: Wow dude, your hatred for Romero is pretty strong. Your review for NOTLD is one of the few that I've read that speaks negatively about it.

I respect George and his films, they always got that rebellious tone to them and I love how he comments on the world he lives in. But we have to admit, he has made a few really dissapointing duds in his time, Survival is one of the in my book. Right next to Knight Riders and Bruiser....Im not a big fan of The Crazies either, technically speaking, its a mess.

I havent heard good things about Season of the Witch either.

But he has made so many other great films. The first three Dead films are all top notch in my book, plus his other non zombie films like The Dark Half, Martin and Creepshow are decent films in my book.

Like I told Friz, lets hope Romero still has one last great story to tell.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I dont really hate Romero Franco, I was just having a bit of fun. I do however stand by my statement that he hasnt made a good film for 25 years. He may be rebellious and offer up satirical and counter cultural statements, but the problem is that all he ever does is comment. Anyone can do that, however few people can actually offer remedies and alternatives. This is where many of his films fall down for me. If somebody needs George A. Romero to point out social and political ills then that person has a problem. That said Romero has made three good films - 'Martin', 'Creepshow' and 'Day of the Dead', and that does ensure his status as an important horror filmmaker.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree Shaun, his films have a very bleak out look on things. They rarely offer any solutions.

On Night of the Living Dead he is saying, racism sucks, it devides, but the problem of racism is never really solved, the two oposing main characters never worked together, they hated each others and both died.

On Dawn consumerism wins, even the good guys decided to stay in the mall because of the security that material things offer them, and thus, they die with their material things. Though two characters escape, they dont have enough gas to go on forever...who knows what happened to them.

On Day, possibly the bleakest of all of these films, government and science never seem to be on the same page, again, everyone works against each other, death ends up winning. Again.

It seems Romero's over all message in most of his films is that mans greatest enemy is really man. The zombies are a nuisance, the real enemy is man himself.

venoms5 said...

I don't understand why fans rip on Romero's movies pointing out things deemed stupid in them when he did the same things in his older movies. The Muldoon's not wanting to kill their own people goes back to Romero's own DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). All those minorities in the apartment complex were hoarding their loved ones in the building refusing to put them down.

I liked this movie and am glad he's recycling certain themes and putting a fresh spin on the story, but it makes no sense for people to throw rocks at his newer zombie movies when a lot of what people complain about can be found in the film(s) that these newer ones constantly get compared to.

I also don't think the subtext was as thick in this movie as it is in some of the others. Aside from a scene that touches on racism, it's just two factions refusing to come together deciding to fight each other instead.

Franco Macabro said...

I see what you mean Venom5, but there are differences between those two films. On DAWN OF THE DEAD, people are just recently getting accustomed to the fact that their family members are turning into zombies. Some dont even accept the fact that this is what has happened. They are in denial.

Remember that scene with the lady who doesnt accept her husband has turned and gets a chunch of her shoulder bitten off by her recently deceased husband? That happened because people didnt want to accept the fact that people were turning into zombies.

On SURVIVAL we are presented with the notion of a group of people who know exactly what a zombie is, they know they survive by eating human flesh and can infect you, yet they still want to keep them "alive", even though they are obviously a threat and know exactly the danger they represent. No rational person would do that, any logical person would see the wisdom of destroying a zombie as fast as you could.

I do think the movie had lots of themes going for it though. It was two factions fighting because they see the world differently. That scene were the leader of the Muldoon's is looking at portraits of old family members is key to the themes.

Another one is where the Muldoon's say they dont want to kill their zombie family members, but end up doing it anyways. A commentary on political hypocrasy and lies?

The Muldoon's are constantly mentioning "the lord" and "the lords" way of doing things, alluding to them being a highly religious bunch of individuals, while they show O'Flynn being perfectly alright with one of their members being a lesbian. Remember that scene wher the lesbian girl asks O'Flynn "you got a problem with that?" and he answers "no, not at all!"

It just shows that the film is all about conservatives vs. liberals. The rebels, vs. the system.

The zombies always represent something in Romero movies, on this one they represented (at least thats how I saw it) the old way of thinking, the masses, living under the old way of doing things.

The O'Flynns want nothing better then to eliminate that old way, and start with the new, bringing in new ways of thinking, and a new hope for humanity.

Maybe I'm looking to deeply into this movies, but I think Im not because Romero is always trying to say something through his movies, it has never been any different.

venoms5 said...

If you recall, there's a title card that states "Six days after the dead began to rise". The Muldoon's feel the same way you just stated the woman in DAWN felt. He refuses to kill his family members opting instead to hold out for a cure, or some divine intervention.

People dislike this movie and his other new ones because it isn't DAWN OF THE DEAD. Dozens of reviews constantly compare them to that film and it's ridiculous to do so. Romero is doing the films he wants to make and it's sad that only a select few are enjoying them when there's so much brainless (haha) zombie crap out there when you've got the revered Romero doing something different and people hate it.

Actually, the Muldoon's were the ones wanting something new. They were trying to get the dead to eat something other than people, or find a cure. The O'Flynn's just wanted them to be dead. I don't think his "message" is as in your face here as it is in the last two. The only thing that stood out to me was the brief racism angle and the violent civil war/social breakdown between the two families a week into the dead returning to life.

I've like all his more recent zombie films for different reasons. Do I think they're better than his first trilogy? Not really, because nostalgia refuses to let me do so. I do think they are all worthy additions to the mythos and interesting takes on familiar themes.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I remember that, weird thing is that even if the film is happening "six days after the dead began to rise" people are acting too matter of factly about the whole thing. If the dead had just begun to rise, the world would have been in a much more chaotic state then the one we see in the movie. Things would have been crazier, but on SURVIVAL, thats not what we see, what we see is people not even scared of zombies. They just see them as something they gotta shoot and thats it.

I'm not asking for another DAWN, Im just asking for a good zombie/horror film, with some horrifying elements to it, but I guess this was the wrong movie to expect that from, since this is essentially Romero's attempt at a comedy. So I'll leave it at that.

The reason why I mention that these movies themes are in your face is because I am very alert towards any films themes, and I was picking them up pretty quickly as I watched this one. It was a constant barrage of themes all through out, political, religious, racial, sexual...you name it, the movie was all over the place. Pretty much the way you feel while watching any Romero zombie feel. Its stronger in some then in others, but that constant assault of themes was there. It's what I like about his movies.

As far as who's right or wrong in the debate of the film, between both sides, the ending lets us see that Romero doesnt side with anyone, he basically says "they are both wrong for wanting to kill each other". His answer? Let's get away from these two ways of thinking, which are always trying to kill each other, and lets look for something different. And thats how the film ends, with the few survivors branching out on their own. Its no surprise that the ones escaping are young, as that is a constant message in these types of movies, hope for the future lies in new ways of thinking and doing things that come from younger generations.


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