TIFF Review: Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead (2009, directed by George Romero)

I should have known it was too good to last.

Over the last few years, Romero's career seemed to be on a bit of an upswing. Land of the Dead wasn't great but it at least had some interesting ideas in it, while Diary of the Dead was an effective 'reboot' of the series. 40 years on, it appeared as though Romero still had some new things to say about the walking dead.

After watching Survival of the Dead last night, I have to say that no longer appears to be the case. The film is just a flat out mess.

The basic premise isn't terrible. It picks up right from the middle of Diary, focusing this time on the AWOL National Guard unit the kids ran into. The idea of a group of trained military personnel gone rogue, trying to survive the chaos, certainly has some appeal as a more action-oriented take on Romero's zombieverse, sort of an Aliens to Diary's Alien.

That's not what we get though. Instead we get just four soldiers who stumble into the middle of a generations-old Irish family feud on a small island off the coast of Delaware. One clan patriarch wants to shoot all the zombies on the island in the head. The other wants to keep them around and find a way to train them to eat animals and not humans, because... well, the best they can do for an explanation as to why he wants to keep them around is some half-assed crap about following God's plan.

Seriously. That's the plot.

It gets worse from there. The script is atrocious. Stupid shit happens for no reason other than an aborted attempt at comic relief with zero logic or follow-up. For instance, there's a scene with a guy on the roof of a shack fishing for zombies. He casts a line, hooks one, pulls it up to the surface then shoots it in the head and rips the hook out. He then casts back again, but accidentally hooks a zombie climbing up the building behind him, and they tumble down the roof into the water.

The people in the building apparently notice absolutely nothing - not the zombie climbing the building, and not the gunshot five seconds earlier - until the two bodies fly past the window.

The whole film is like that. Characters do stupid shit for no reason, comment on the fact that they are doing stupid shit for no reason ("Wow, I forgot my gun at the cabin when I wandered out into the woods looking for water. That was stupid.") and then do nothing about it (like, say, walk back twenty feet to the cabin and get a fucking gun.) Even the plot does stupid shit for no reason. One of the clan elders has a daughter he squabbles with, but when he returns to the island with the soldiers she's become a zombie. No worries though, she's got a twin that we didn't think it was important to mention until we realized we still needed her character to talk! Surprise!

It's almost like this thing didn't have a script at all, and it was some sort of attempt at an improv zombie comedy. Only without casting any comedians.

If the zombie kills were decent, the rest might have been forgivable. Goddess knows effects have salvaged films like this before. But they're not, they're just as dumb as the rest of the movie. One zombie gets killed by jamming a fire extinguisher into its mouth, because I guess the expanding foam crushed its brain or something. All we get to see is a cartoony shot of its eyes bugging out. Another gets killed by being shot in the chest with a flare gun, which magically makes its head (and only its head) catch fire. There's simply nothing in here even on the level of the brain defibrillation from Diary.

I can't even really say I was disappointed by Survival of the Dead. Angered and offended is probably closer to the mark.

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