Fantastic Fest Review: George Romero's Survival of the Dead
by Alex Billington
September 27, 2009
I'm not the biggest George Romero fan, but I do know that no one can make zombie movies like he does. Unfortunately in the last few years he's been making some pretty awful zombie movies, including Diary of the Dead which I saw at the Toronto Film Festival a few years ago and really hated. But he's back at the top of his game again with Survival of the Dead. It's not a return to form, but he is back. Somewhat like Steven Soderbergh, Romero has reached a point where he just likes to experiment and do whatever the hell he wants, which includes making a zombie movie that feels more like a western than a post-apocalyptic epic.
Survival of the Dead spins off of a character that first appeared very briefly in Diary of the Dead who is part of a small four-man group of soldiers that are just roaming around trying to survive in a world overrun by zombies. Over on an island off the coast of Deleware, however, things are a bit different. The local town on the island is run by two Irish families - the O'Flynns and the Muldoons. One of the families wants to kill of all the zombies that pop up, the other wants to keep them alive in hopes of finding a cure or discovering that they can survive on something other than human flesh. The head of the O'Flynn family gets kicked off. The soldiers meet up with him and make their way to the island and fight themselves caught in the crossfire.
The plot is a bit hard to describe and that's because it's not the greatest. The two families on the island seemed odd and out-of-place, especially with their thick Irish accents. I got that Romero just wanted an eventual western stand-off between all the men on each side (or kind of like The Godfather, either way), but I couldn't get completely into it. The group of soldiers was, at first, the group I enjoyed seeing the most, but when they get onto the island, the great dynamic they originally had starts to fall apart as it gets mixed in with the two families. It's a bit rough in spots, but of course we're watching this for the zombies, right?
Despite all of those rough edges, I'll admit that I had a good time watching this, it was fun and it's a huge improvement over Diary of the Dead. Romero doesn't stuff it with political messages, instead he just lets the story play out and includes a small amount of voiceover to get his message across. I don't mind that Romero continues to experiment and do whatever he wants, especially if the result is an entertaining bit of zombie cinema, which this is. Survival of the Dead has some great zombie kills and some great comedy. It's Romero just doing what he does best. Worth seeing if you love zombies and it's way better than his last two films.
Fantastic Fest Rating: 7 out of 10