Survival of the Dead (2009)

Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead is just bizarre. Half-zombie movie, half-western, it is a confused film that is defeated by its own overblown narrative. George A. Romero squeezes in too many ideas in to too small and cheap a space, resulting in a stifled story that is never straightforward enough to make an impact.

Inspired by the Hatfield-McCoy Feud, and by William Wyler’s The Big Country, the film plays out a bitter rivalry between the O’Flynns and the Muldoons, two warring Irish families who live on Plum Island, off the coast of Delaware. In the aftermath of the outbreak, the O’Flynns, led by Patrick (Kenneth Welsh), wish to kill off all of the undead who inhabit the island, whereas the Muldoons, led by Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick), propose to keep them alive until a cure is found. Patrick’s daughter, Janet (Kathleen Munroe), is fond of horses, yet not so fond of her father, and suggests that he be exiled from the island in order to end the bickering. Meanwhile, National Guard deserters Sergeant ‘Nicotine’ Crockett (played by Alan Van Sprang who briefly appears in both Land and Diary), Kenny, Francisco and Tomboy, hear of Plum Island through a boy’s stories (this character is literally named “Boy”) and decide to seek refuge there. There is some confusion and double-crossing involving Patrick attempting to dupe the guardsmen, but eventually everyone finds themselves on the island together, endlessly arguing, plotting and running around like characters in a blood-soaked soap opera. A couple of twists in the story are an attempt to keep things interesting, and there is some unnecessary love-interest talk which does nothing but make the audience feel that they’ve suddenly tuned in to an episode of Wildfire.

Land and Diary were evidence of Romero’s storytelling skills slipping: in both, the messages trip over themselves to take center stage, kicking over many other important aspects of the films in the process. They glory in their prospective audience, repeating themselves over and over (especially so in Diary), whilst forgetting that the strongest statements in film live and breathe through good drama and visuals. In Survival, the messages may not be so obtrusive, but what we see instead is an uncontrolled excess of narrative threads and pointless dialogue. As a student film from a first-time director, I could forgive this zombie flick for being sloppily written, but as the latest of films from a renowned horror director, this kind of baffling, third-rate drama is heartbreaking. I can only sit patiently and hope that Romero can successfully create something both new and brilliant in the near future, whether it be in the form of his series of comics Empire of the Dead (rumored for release in January) which will purportedly involve vampires as well as zombies, or in the form of a film that, dare I say it, leaves the undead alone to focus on something else entirely.

FINAL VERDICT: ā˜…ā˜…

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6 thoughts on “Survival of the Dead (2009)

  1. Victor De Leon says:

    This is the only Romero Zombie flick I could not get through. I was just so bored and I tuned out. Good review! Maybe one day I can get all the way through it but I’m in no hurry. šŸ™‚ Good job!

  2. Arleigh says:

    Survival of the Dead was definitely not Romero’s best day, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The ideas Romero was trying to explore were good ones, but he definitely went on the campy side of the narrative with the dialogue and how he staged some of the zombie kill gags.

    I still would recommend it for zombie completionists, but advise them to set the bar very low. I did like the evolution the zombies took by film’s end that finally brings Romero’s zombies back to a brief scene in Night of the Living Dead that showed humans weren’t the only meat the living dead would go for.

    • hunkamunka says:

      I’d like to rewatch this at some point now that I have seen so many other zombie movies from the 70s, 80s and 90s, to see whether it’s really as bad as I first thought. I think at the time I was blinded by the brilliance of Romero’s original trilogy (I watched all of his zombie films in order one after the other as an introduction to the zombie genre), and was just really let down by Land of the Dead onwards.

      I agree that this and Diary of the Dead should be seen by zombie fans as they do present some very interesting ideas, just not so great execution and thematic balance.

      That’s also an interesting point that you bring up (and which most people completely forget) – that Romero’s zombies did eat bugs in NotLD, and so Survival actually weirdly acts as a perfect conclusion to the film series!

      • Arleigh says:

        Quality of the finished set aside, the film’s premise is an almost too spot-on take on the general state of American politics.

        The toe family clans are pretty much a stand-in for Democrats and Republicans.

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