Romero Tells Another Tale
I admit having a soft spot for what Survival of the Dead director George A. Romero is up to these days. Certainly I've got every reason to be annoyed at his continuing "Dead" series of zombie movies, since I'm so very tired of zombies as a story element. They've pretty much become parodies of themselves, and seem mostly to be used as a gimmick nowadays. But perhaps that's why I don't mind Romero's takes so much -- he doesn't use zombies as a gimmick, he just tries to make a point or explore an issue and the undead apocalypse is just his canvas of choice. He illustrates his thoughts through zombies.
Such is the nature of Romero's last three movies: Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and now Survival of the Dead. They're not anything grand or mind-blowing, nor are they high-concept. Instead, they're simply stories with some original thought behind them and an interest in dabbling with various types of characters. Romero unfolds each one with a storyteller's localized intimacy, and then explores the dynamics of human behavior under restrictive situations. He's gotten cozy with the worlds he's created -- and in Survival's case, he may have gotten too cozy. The zombies here are practically taken for granted, but in loosening up the terror they should represent, Romero has also freed his story up for a lighter, more amusingly misanthropic take on the worst tendencies of people.
With nothing less than the foolishness of idealogical faithfulness in mind, Survival of the Dead focuses on a family feud between two island-dwelling ranch-handy Irish-American clans -- the head of the O'Flynns believes all discovered zombies should be put to rest permanently, while the head of the Muldoons wants to round them up in the hopes that one day they can be "cured." Neither side will budge and each has resorted to threats of violence.
You can see where this is going in terms of what it wants to say about people, and yet Survival hardly has the tone of a lecture. Rather, it throws in an extra group of military-trained survivors to be caught in the middle, gives zombies the new characteristic of retaining their strongest tendencies from when they were alive, and tosses them all together for a dance that might've felt at home in the Wild West. Romero appears to be having fun just spinning his tales from the undead; he's going for episodes of entertainment rather than ambitious pretensions, and on that level I think he does just fine.
(Released by Magnet Releasing and rated "R" for strong zombie violence/gore, language and brief sexuality.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.