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rochefort [Film Festival 10.07.09] post apocalyptic zombies movie review horror

Year: 2009
Directors: George A. Romero
Writers: George A. Romero
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 3 out of 10

"Survival of the Dead", George A. Romero's sixth entry in the ongoing zombie mythology he created with "Night of the Living Dead", is upon us. In "Diary of the Dead", George reset the timeline back to the initial days of the zombie outbreak, and you may remember a key scene in which the main characters were robbed by a group of AWOL soldiers. "Survival" follows those soldiers as they head to an island where two long-feuding families are dealing with the zombie plague in their own unique way. One group believes we should kill 'em all, but the other side elects to chain up their undead kin and leave them be until somebody comes up with a cure. The zombies in each of Romero's movies have always been just the background device by which he explores human behavior in extreme crisis situations, and "Survival" continues in that vein. And like "Diary", this new film is nowhere near the same caliber as the series' first three films, but if the general internet-based response is anything to go by, I'm somewhat in the minority here. Because in my opinion, it's a lot worse than you've heard.

I'm a major fan of Romero at his best. Loved "Martin", "The Crazies", the first three "...of the Dead" films. And while not my favorites, "Creepshow", "Monkey Shines", and even "Land of the Dead" all have their moments. So I consider myself a proponent, not just of the man's movies but also of his d.i.y. work ethic and resilience. Plus, he's a super-cool guy. In a way, George is the gorier Terry Gilliam, a director often plagued by budget constraints, a mutual distrust of the Hollywood studio system, and a reach that often exceeds his grasp. And like Gilliam, Romero is the sort of director you root for, because you simply can't ignore his contribution to cinema. In the directors' pantheon, Romero exists alongside many directors like Carpenter or Hooper whose best days seem way, way behind them, and "Survival", his latest foray into the world of subtext-laden horror, is at least proof that he has no intentions of giving up or slowing down. The general response in the fanboy ranks seems to be one of undue tolerance; I've read writeup after writeup that insists this one deserves to be judged through a filter. It's not as bad as you've heard, they say. It's Romero's take on the western and that's clever, they say. It's at least the first sign of a return to form, they say. No. No free passes, guys. Bad is bad.

The characters are uninteresting and clumsily-realized. We're introduced to the only female member of the army unit, and she's masturbating. It makes an impression, to be sure, but for the wrong reasons. The action is dull, except when it veers into slapstick, Wile E. Coyote territory with reckless abandon. The "new" addition to the mythology, in this case the broadening of the undead palate to include animals in their diet, is foreshadowed with an iron fist and poorly executed. Saying that this is better than "Diary of the Dead" is like saying that getting your pinky toe chopped off didn't suck as bad as getting your pinky finger chopped off. Not much of a choice. So it's a western. Don't care. Horse-riding zombies and duster-clad evil humans may have seemed cool in the script (though I strongly doubt it), but would be only unintentionally funny if they weren't so cringe-inducing. So the acting is better than in "Diary". Only slightly, and still don't care. The sense of impending doom was still at least kinda intact in "Diary", but here we're treated to scenes that consistently erode away at any notion of real danger, such as the one where our main human villain has a zombie cook chained up in the kitchen. Oh wow at the symbolism. So it's a return to a traditional shooting style, unlike "Diary"'s hand-held first-person schtick. Don't care. And neither should you.

There's a really unsettling parallel between the "Dead" films and another six-movie series, the one from the other George, Mr. Lucas' "Star Wars" movies. Both series feature a great first film, an even greater second film, and are then followed up with mild variations on the law of diminishing returns. The main contrast is that Lucas was already a rich, rich man by the time he butchered goodwill with the latter three, but Romero still has the soul of a hungry, indie filmmaker. And I don't buy the idea that every artist's work has to decline as he or she gets older. There are examples to the contrary in every era. The nuts and bolts, blue collar aspects of filmmaking may be best left to younger, fitter people, but perspective and understanding can greatly improve with age, and our older storytellers owe us their refined insight, especially when they've made the sort of indelible impact that Romero has. Remember, this is the guy who basically invented the survival horror and zombie sub-genre single-handedly, and he has one of the most consistently distinct voices in horror film history. If anyone can bring us the next undead gestalt movie, it's him. He doesn't need our half-hearted kudos. All he needs from us is the confirmation of what he's almost certainly aware of anyway: the next one has to be much, much better.

Look, I will always give a new Romero film a chance over the latest slop by Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, or any in a long list of H'wood hacks who, in a well-managed world, would live out their lives as night-shift grocery store mid-management. Those guys are Satan's spawn, and fleecing the world with the Devil's propaganda apparently pays well. But in the grand scheme, they're no more successful than any number of flash-in-the-pan amateurs who made a single cash-grab rip-off only to retreat into obscurity, so don't go thinking I've lost perspective. But this soft-pedalling of "Survival" that we're seeing in the fanboy ranks does damage, and lots of it. It undermines credibility on a huge number of levels. It panders. It puts our respect of a genre icon over the need to critique each film on its own merits regardless of the maker's body of work. There's a moment near the end of "Survival" where the killing is supposed to be all done and only a few characters are left standing, even though we weren't really shown where all the zombies wandered off to and several climactic confrontations haven't been effectively wrapped up. Seemingly aware of the huge gaps, one character simply states "It's over". Not quite yet, but keep up this laziness, George, and it soon will be.

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trogen (13 years ago) Reply

so wheres the review of the movie?... i just read a load of whine...


Scott (13 years ago) Reply

You may want to read the review again then, this time slower if you need to ;)

Romero's movies just keep getting worse and worse so it's no surprise that "Survival" continued in the trend and is now the pinnacle of the worst of his movies.

It may be time for him to just step aside and let others continue and build upon the zombie genre he created. At this rate, it seems like he's just closed his eyes and is throwing darts in the general direction of a dart board in the hopes of hitting a bullseye. Unfortunately, all he is doing is just hitting the wall again and again.


Ben Austwick (13 years ago) Reply

What a shame - especially as its premise runs with one of the few groups of characters from "Diary" I liked. It sounds like Romero has actually lost what he had and "Diary" wasn't just a blip.

Great comparison of Romero and Gilliam BTW.


andy (13 years ago) Reply

i have loved romero's zombie movies! some more then others and no offence rochefort but that is a terrible review! i mean your basically saying "this is my opinion and it should be your's too" thats my review of your review and whoever reads this this review really is in weak form! its really that bad! i dont like it one bit "And neither should you" lol p.s that last bit was sarcasm!


Lotus Eater (13 years ago) Reply

Lets not eat our chickens before they have hatched.

I LOVE ZOMBIE FILMS! I look forward to this.


rek (13 years ago) Reply

Ben - Diary was terrible, what are you talking about?

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