Tuesday, March 23

Some quick thoughts in Survival of the Dead (2009)

A rogue unit of military troops go AWOL in the rising chaos of the undead invasion during the alternate events seen in George Romero's Diary of the Dead. Led by 'Nicotine' Crocket (Alan Van Sprang), the soldiers pillage places and strangers as they seek safe refuge from the "deadheads" overtaking America. Meanwhile, the tumult between the figureheads of two long warring Irish families boils over dealing with apocalyptic situation on a small island off the coast of Delaware. Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) advocates direct extermination of the dead regardless of feeling to rid the plague from their isle sanctuary. Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) staunchly disagrees with a conviction to uncover if the dead will feed off of other animals instead of humans. A standoff ensues with O'Flynn and his clan exiled to the ocean. Eventually, the troops and O'Flynn join together to travel back to the island in search of Muldoon and the banished leader's daughter (Kathleen Munroe).

It pains me to type the following, but Romero just needs to take a break from his "serious" zombies and give us something refreshing. I know what you just thought, who the hell is this thesaurus-lovin' idiot to say that? I get that, I'm sure I'd be a total lapdog if Lucio Fulci were still alive and granted a cinematic comeback from the widespread rediscovery of his work by horror fans in recent years. The thing is that Romero keeps preaching to the choir over the course Land, Diary, and Survival. We all love the jabs at tender societal conditions in his end of the world allegories, but as Survival's credits roll up, it's tough not to ponder if Romero took this praise too literally. At best, Survival of the Dead is a further concise honing of the overarching theme of both the living and dead being one in the same with the living too "whatever" to realize. At worst, Romero's latest effort is more pounding over the collective head of his legion with the usual ideas pioneered decades past in superior Dead films.

Survival seems tailored to a newer audience picked up with '05's Land, which might be the intention since this and Diary belong to a different track than his original series. If this updated perspective is indeed by design, Romero is some sort of genius, because Survival would challenge a newcomer or those used to the dregs of modern zombie DTVers. Almost as if Romero is purposely trying to maintain a real credibility to the subgenre. That's very admirable, but there's already throngs of fans that without question believe in this and Romero. Survival suffers from its story and gimmicky characters becoming damn near meaningless to Romero's minute-by-minute lectures on people, greed, petty quarrels, religion, jealousy, money, armed forces, etc., etc...

The director/writer no longer need to shoehorn globs of message into these adventures. Instead, let the message speak through the story and blend into his oeuvre. While being a better experience than the hollow Diary; Survival chokes on what some would call biting cultural awareness to such an extent it's seldom exciting and mostly forgettable. Romero provides no clear answers (yet?) and the final thrust of finding out if the dead will dine on animal flesh doesn't quite make sense. Survival mostly takes place at the most one month after the initial outbreak, which means there's still a long way to go until billions reach walking dead status and then (presumably) rot away. At this point the last thing the living survivors would be hoping for is a mass turn to the dead eating chickens and cows. In this respect, Day of the Dead's Dr. Logan possessed more sensibility, and would immediately exclaim such hope a logistical impossibility.

I also thought I'd never see the day when CG gore was more economical than practical effects. Most of the splatter is crafted by "okay" computer wizardry and can't stand with the likes of Savini's amazing work in Day. That said, there's one really cool flare gun gag that's a mix of both mediums that ends up being the standout. As for comedic bits, this might sound bad, but a lot of it is the kind of farce your grandpop would laugh at. An example being a charcoal-faced bad guy explosion directly lifted from a Looney Tunes cartoon that sticks out in what's otherwise Survival's best sequence. The characters and their quirks are undercooked, snapping into the same unrealistic comic book versions with goofy names seen in Romero's other recent Dead flicks. Still, it's nice to see Romero shooting in scope again.

Ultimately, if social commentary was a pencil, Survival of the Dead is Romero continuing to crank the handle on the sharpener. Though instead of suddenly jabbing the needle-like implement in the viewer's eye; the king of zombies seems more content with dumping the shavens over your head. Maybe I'll be proven wrong. Perhaps George A. Romero will one day unleash his final epic as a mixture of the two series and make the whole an astonishing epitaph to his lifelong career. To be honest, after surviving Survival, anything else would be just as welcoming...

Optimum's British DVD looks especially good despite being on a single layer disc. I'm fairly certain their Blu-ray is region-locked, so I'm out of luck. The disc has zero extras and this particular film probably wouldn't be benefited too much by a jump to HD being so dark and desaturated looking.


DrunkethWizerd said...

Martin 2! The Resurrection.

Anthony1138 said...

Still haven't received Survival on BD from Amazon UK! Damn this transcontinental shipping rubbish!!! I hope it comes tomorrow so I can watch it while "working at home". Needless to say, I won't be reading your write up until I see it. :(

Unknown said...

Would you say it is worth getting from Optimum, Jayson? Or should I just wait until (I think) Magnolia releases it?

Jayson Kennedy said...

I'd say it's at least worth waiting to see if the US disc has any extras.

Anthony1138 said...

I watched Survival today and can confirm that Optimum's BD is Region B locked. Overall I felt the film was somewhat of a let down and was really hoping for something different. I'm not writing it off, Land has grown on me quite a bit over the years, but I didn't like it as much as Diary after first viewing.

I agree that the animal eating idea was weird and didn't seem fully flushed out. The only thing that I take away from it is that the title is literally referring to the dead finding a new way to survive. It makes me curious about how he plans on continuing the idea in the next dead entry.

As much as it pains me to say so, Romero's writing is slipping. There are way too many themes and elements crammed into what is essentially a straight-forward story. The feud was way over the top, the social commentaries were rehashed, the comedic elements were lame and award, the religious bits thrown in just didn't fit and a lot of the characters and dialogue were weak. It was hard to believe that the island and people on it exist, even in the Romero Dead world.

The Optimum BD is just OK. I'm not sure if the film was meant to looked somewhat washed out, or on the bright side, but the blacks just weren't black enough. Detail and sharpness didn't really impress me either, compared to other new HD transfers. Hopefully we'll get a better US release come summer/fall.

Buscemi said...

You just couldn't wait for the theatrical release in May, could you?

Franco Macabro said...

OH man, I keep reading bad or so-so reviews about Survival...I had hopes for it, but nothing on the trailer was impressive, and then I saw a guy fishing for zombies and I was like "what?"

Romero needs to infuse some new ideas into his Dead movies, I wonder if he still has another one in him?

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?

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