The Austin Chronicle

George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

Rated R, 90 min. Directed by George A. Romero. Starring Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Julian Richings, Devon Bostick, Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 28, 2010

Remember the scene in Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead in which the cigarette-jonesing security cop tells the heroes he's "got an idea – maybe we can make it to the island"? What island, they ask. "Any island!" he cheerfully replies. Well gang, they finally made it to the island, and frankly they – and we – were better off in Pittsburgh. This sixth official entry into the once-upon-a-nightmare that began with 1968's still devastating Night of the Living Dead is as creaky and antisocial a buzzkill as one of his wormy minions, and it's almost entirely devoid of the surreal, end-of-days gallows humor that's kept every updating since 1978's ultramoist Dawn from descending into pure, unadulterated nihilism. Recall Diary's inspired splatstick interlude with Samuel, the deaf-mute Amish man? This time out we get zombie fishing hijinks, and the cathartic laughs fall on dead ears. Further concentrating the remnants of humanity onto a single island off the coast of Delaware, Survival of the Dead begins "six days after the dead began to walk," with the reappearance of a minor character from Diary, renegade National Guardsman-turned-highwayman Crocket (Van Sprang). Crocket and his motley crew ferry onto Plum Island, passing directly over the outstretched talons of submerged dead. What they find there is worse than anything yet encountered in a Romero zombie epic: It's a goofy riff on the ancient Hatfields and McCoys blood feud that’s gone Irish. Zombies? We don't need no stinkin' zombies. The hammy melodramatics are led on one side by übercrusty Patrick O'Flynn (Welsh), acting like some unholy cross between Darby O'Gill and "Dirty" Harry Callahan, and on the other by Seamus Muldoon (Fitzpatrick), a religious zealot who believes the familial dead should be left unmolested until the final, apocalyptic reckoning. At odds with both is O'Flynn's feisty, estranged daughter, Jane (Munroe), who just wants everyone to chill the hell out. Romero is clearly on her side, and the audience is meant to be as well, but Survival of the Dead is so muddled in its themes and foggy in its ideas (unusual for Romero) that no one side seems sane enough to root for. Frankly, that may be the whole point. Aside from the ridiculous dialogue, of which there is much, and truly crappy CGI gore, of which there is even more, Survival of the Dead feels like the single weakest link in what is otherwise the strongest, smartest, and most transgressively revolutionary horror series in cinema history. It's just not a very well-made movie. Romero has always been more a provocative and profound social critic than simple horror auteur, although the two occupations often blend seamlessly in his work. And, as any savvy social commentator will tell you, we're fucked, so much so of late that the notion of undead hordes are almost an afterthought in this man-vs.-man-vs.-dead-man saga. Romero's ever-cynical worldview has curdled and congealed like so much brain matter drying on the collective living room carpet of Anytown, USA. There's plenty of fear and loathing to go around, as ever, but now it's almost entirely aimed at we, the living. And why not? We're a grubby bunch of backbiting, infighting, unworthy jackasses so intent on maintaining a long-ago-shattered status quo that we can't even see what's staring us in the face every time we look in a mirror. What are these monstrous, bloodthirsty killers? Quoth Dawn of the Dead's SWAT-team sage: "They're us." Go on, shoot ’em in the head. In Romero's unblinking and distressingly accurate realist's gaze, we're already dead.

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